Just a few days left of this harvest season trip before I return to the UK and as I drove around today I couldn’t help but think, if this was my last day in the mountains this year then they had combined with the weather to show me their very beautiful best.  Clear blue skies, bright sunshine, and truly gorgeous autumn colours.  Sadly it seems that Saturday, my actual last day, will be wet.

I spent much of the day just driving around admiring, and photographing, the beautiful scenery, soon it will be buried under the winter snow for several months.

Shiodani panorama

Shiodani panorama

Panorama from Mitsumineyama

Panorama from Mitsumineyama

Breakfast Spot panorama

Breakfast Spot panorama

With most mud ponds now empty the race is on to prepare them before the snow comes and fills them with fresh ‘water’ for the following season.  In the mountains behind  Mushigame village a breeder someone was busy using a machine to pound the bank and re-compress the mud.

Breeder preparing mud pond before snow comes

Breeder preparing mud pond before snow comes

One of the famous viewpoints in Mushigame is from the corner by Marusada Koi Farm’s Koi house looking down through Sangoku valley.  The high point in the distance is the ski slope in Yamakoshi.  As you can see the light and colours as the afternoon wore on were quite beautiful.

Sangoku Valley from Marusada Koi Farm

Sangoku Valley from Marusada Koi Farm

If you’ve followed my blog over the last 18 months or so then Sadao Ikarashi needs no introduction.  A couple of weeks ago I featured his number 1 harvest – http://nishikigoi.life/2015/10/20/marusada-number-1-harvest/.

As I write this I cannot tell you why Ikarashi san leaves his tosai out in the mud ponds so late when others have harvested theirs in September, but this afternoon he was busy sorting the tosai from 3 females, 2 Sanke and 1 Kohaku, all of which were in excess of 85cm, 1 over 90cm – the parents, not the tosai 😉


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Marusada outside ponds

Marusada outside ponds

Whilst these ponds have a wonderful view over the valley, their existence is somewhat precarious, since the earthquake in 2004 clinging to the edge of the mountain.

Marusada outside ponds

Marusada outside ponds

Sadao Ikarashi moving tosai

Sadao Ikarashi moving tosai

When I arrived Ikarashi san had already completed the selection of the tosai and was preparing to place them into the indoor heated ponds for winter.  Before they were placed inside all the tosai were given a 10 minute bath in formalin.

Tosai being given 10 minute formalin dip

Tosai being given 10 minute formalin dip

Sadao Ikarashi moving tosai

Sadao Ikarashi moving tosai

A little while before Ikarashi san had started moving the Koi and giving the tosai their formalin dip there was a little lull in the action during which Hirasawa san, who I know from working in Yamakoshi Branch Office and around Mushigame, stopped by to look.  He had a chat with Ikarashi san and bowled a couple of tosai which I’ll show later.  Half of their conversation I could follow, half I couldn’t.  However, at one point Hirasawa san joked to Ikarashi san, ‘Daijoubu, Mark san power’.  I asked what he mean’t, because one thing was sure, if I could do something to help Ikarashi san then I wouldn’t hesitate.  Later it would become clear.

As we stood there chatting Toshikatsu Ikarashi arrived with a brand new trolley.

If you’ve been to Mushigame village and driven out past Ikarashi Kazuto and Marusada Koi Farms you know that this is a pretty steep hill.  When you get to the top it’s a proper full revs hill start to get out.  In the winter with snow on the ground then this exit can be somewhat impossible.  The screen capture from Google Maps Street View below kind of gives you and idea of the gradient.

Google streetview showing Marusada Koi Farm

Google streetview showing Marusada Koi Farm

Toshikatsu and Hirasawa san had moved on by the time the first batch of tosai had finished their formalin dip and Sadao Ikarashi loaded them into a bowl on the trolley.  His next task to push the bowl up to the Koi house.  With steely determination he dug in and started to push the trolley uphill.


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‘click’, ‘click’, ‘click’ went my camera, I’m sure Ikarashi san must wonder what the fascination is all about, he’s done this for years before the Internet was even invented, for years before gaigin arrived in the mountains, indeed for years before there was even really a Koi industry to speak of.  When you consider that 10 days ago the 62nd Nagaoka Koi Show was held, last weekend the 55th Niigata Nogyosai and in February next year it will be the 47th All Japan Koi Show, at 80 years old Ikarashi san has seen it all.

Sadao Ikarashi pushing bowl of tosai

Sadao Ikarashi pushing bowl of tosai

As Ikarashi san passed me, seriously tinged with guilt, I put my hand on his and asked, ‘daijoubu desu ka’, ‘are you ok?’.  ‘Daijoubu’, Ikarashi san replied.  As he carried on up the hill my guilt grew deeper.

Sadao Ikarashi pushing bowl of tosai

Sadao Ikarashi pushing bowl of tosai

Sadao Ikarashi moving tosaiSadao Ikarashi moving tosai

Sadao Ikarashi moving tosai

With another bowl ready he looked up and then put his head down with a charge as though to say, ‘I’m heading straight for you’.

Sadao Ikarashi pushing bowl of tosai

Sadao Ikarashi pushing bowl of tosai

Sadao Ikarashi pushing bowl of tosai

Sadao Ikarashi pushing bowl of tosai

At that point I put the camera down and insisted I push the trolley.  A really difficult situation, not for one minute did I want to imply he couldn’t push the trolley himself, neither did I want him to think, ‘you lazy fat gaigin cameraman’.

Relieved from his trolley pushing duties Ikarashi san seemed to have a new spring in his step as the sun set around us.

Sadao Ikarashi moving tosai

Sadao Ikarashi moving tosai

As the sun set behind the trees today’s work was complete.


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Dusk falls on Marusada outside ponds

Dusk falls on Marusada outside ponds

Marusada tosai Kohaku

Marusada tosai Kohaku

I particularly liked the tosai Kohaku below.  Maybe I’ll speak to Toshikatsu tomorrow and see if I can buy it, it would be a special memory of a special afternoon.

Marusada tosai Kohaku

Marusada tosai Kohaku

When I drove away and said goodbye to Ikarashi san I was left in no doubt that he was grateful my little help that I’d given him, as I drove down the hill into Mushigame in my rear view mirror I saw Ikarashi san bent at the waist in a deep bow, a very special and very touching moment.


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