As spring approaches in Japan, the snow will soon melt and disappear filling the mudponds with fresh water as it does so.
Many dealers and hobbyists will visit Japan looking for new stocks, and many looking for special Koi, tategoi and maybe the opportunity to leave a Koi as ‘azukari’.
For many hobbyists having a Koi that is ‘azukari’ is something of dream, for others it’s a source of disbelief. The Japanese word ‘azukari’ literally translates as ‘under custody’ or ‘under supervision’. In the instance of Koi it means a fish that is left in the care of the breeder or dealer in Japan.
In this article we’ll look at some of the reasons why someone would purchase a Koi, invariably an expensive Koi, perhaps even just from a photograph, leave it in Japan and then allow it to be placed into a ‘natural’ mud pond for 3 months of the year. We’ll also look at some of the reasons why you might want to reconsider your ‘dream’ of leaving a Koi in Japan.
It is unquestionable that for many hobbyists having a Koi growing in Japan has an element of ‘excitement’, a thrill, a bragging right and certainly a talking point with both other Koi keepers and non Koi keepers, the latter are probably equally amazed that you would spend so much on a fish, put it in a plastic bag, and ship it 1000’s of miles from Japan in the first place. Apart from bragging rights there are of course many other benefits, or perceived benefits, from leaving a Koi with a breeder in Japan.
It must be said that for the majority of Koi being offered for sale at any given time of the year there is simply no value to leaving them in Japan as azukari. Many a time a breeder will politely suggest that you are better off shipping the Koi and growing it yourself. Does this mean the Koi you are looking at is junk? No, of course not, but mudpond space is at a premium, certainly for larger Koi, the breeder may not believe that the Koi would benefit from being left under their care. They may not want to take the risk of something going wrong and having an unhappy customer the following harvest season.
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Perhaps the number 1 reason for leaving a Koi to grow in Japan is because it has a chance of competing at Koi shows in the future. Of course, once a Koi has left Japan then there is no going back, however well it may have developed or grown in your own pond. If your goal is to compete in Japanese Koi shows then you can of course buy the ‘finished article’ and enter it, shipping it soon after, or alternatively you buy something with ‘show potential’ and leave it in the care of the breeder for maybe 1, 2 or however many years that potential will take to deliver.
There is often much talk of the magic of the mudponds and for many this is an overriding reason to want to leave a Koi in Japan under the care of the breeder. As hobbyists and professionals’ knowledge and understanding of keeping Koi develops the world over there are many who believe that mudponds can be equaled or bettered by a good quality concrete pond. Indeed, many top end Koi in Japan are grown exclusively in concrete ponds as they get older, the concrete pond offering a more controlled environment without the not inconsiderable risks that come with a mudpond.
It is important to consider that a Koi left as azukari will enjoy the mudpond for perhaps just 4 months maximum in any 12 month period. Should you purchase a Koi in October or November the Koi will then spend the winter in a relatively heavily stocked concrete pond with minimal, if any food, and a water temperature of perhaps 10oC. Not until May the following year will the Koi be transferred to the mud pond (for which you’ve paid between 20,000 and 100,000 yen ‘azukari’ fee). A couple of weeks after being placed there it will get fed, and it will enjoy the ‘high life’ until September when the food will be cut in preparation of the autumn harvest.
Unfortunately the ‘high life’ in the mudpond isn’t always quite so great, the mudpond ‘summer camp’ comes with a whole host of risks and dangers. First off there are the predators, several types of birds including herons and cormorants can be found hunting in mudponds. There are bears which may or may not be able to catch a Koi. Then there is the weather, too hot and the Koi won’t eat enough. If there is not enough rain then the mud pond water will not be ‘refreshed’ and start to go off. July, August and September are typhoon season. Heavy rains can, and have been known to, break the banks of mudponds, washing them and their contents away in landslides. Other problems may also occur such as unidentified parasites or accidental spawnings due to a misplaced male resulting in a pond full of hungry fry. Of course, these risks are not new, they are the same risks that the Japanese have contended with for generations as Koi breeders.
For any hobbyist of dealer there is surely nothing that beats the magical moment of lifting your own Koi from the murky waters of a mudpond on a chilly autumn morning and seeing the skin glow before you knowing that the Koi has grown and developed well.
In part 2 we will talk to several industry professionals for their thoughts and experience of leaving Koi in Japan as azukari.