As you travel around Japan you will often encounter Nishikigoi living in the wild, or semi wild environments.
I vividly recall my first trip to Japan in 2001 and seeing a Yamabuki Ogon swimming in a natural water way, along with some other Koi, from a train. I always felt that was in Tokyo, however for all the time i’ve travelled around Tokyo by train since I’ve never witnessed it again.
On that same trip in 2001 we visited Isawa Nishikigoi Centre where Koi could be found swimming in the drainage ditch outside the farm.
On later trips to visits to Momotaro I witnessed Koi being released into the river to thrive for themselves – something very unlikely to happen to openly today.
Visit many public Japanese gardens and you will of course find Nishikigoi swimming in the ponds and water features they contain.
Visit the charming Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter (https://www.okayama-japan.jp/en/spot/886) and you’ll find Koi swimming in the waterways.
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A few weeks ago Mike Snaden of Yume Koi (www.yumekoi.com) sent me a few pictures of a gentleman in Japan who ‘kept’ Koi in the river. Intrigued I asked Mike to tell me more, a story too charming not to share……..
Alongside a main road in the middle of nowhere, near Hiroshima, lies a fruit and veg stall. The produce that you’ll find for sale within, are all produced by the owner and his wife, both of whom I think are in their 70’s now. In regards to the following article however, the owner is very modest, and somewhat private in his character. As such, he didn’t want to be named, and didn’t particularly want to be in the article himself, though was more than happy for me to make it all about his fish, how he keeps them, and what they mean to him… Sooooo, we will refer to this kind gent as ‘Yasaiya-san’. [‘yasai’ translates as vegetables, ‘ya’ means shop, so Yasaiya-san means vegetable shop man.]
I first visited this stall many years ago, with Takigawa-san. We actually went there because Takigawa-san wanted to buy some plants. At that time, there were no Koi there, as it wasn’t something that the Yasaiya-san had even considered.
By chance, last Spring, I popped in to get a drink from the vending machine outside. Yasaiya-san greeted me, so I mentioned to him that I had visited his stall many years ago with Takigawa-san, and that the reason I was in Japan, was Koi business. As soon as I said this, Yasaiya-san’s face lit up! He said, “Wow, I have Koi here too!”. I relied, “Really, where?”. He promptly ushered me through a narrow pathway behind the stall, and we arrived at a very small small river! He went on to explain, that all the Koi were ones he bought cheaply from Takigawa-san, because they all had some kind of weak point. He then told me just how much fun the Koi were, and that they recognised him, and also would come when he called them. I was somewhat amused, and curious about this. However, on the day I went back to take these photographs, I thought I would see just how much they recognised him, so arrived at the river before him. When I got there, the fish were undoubtedly curious, and started to slowly make their way to where I was standing. Talking loudly, or clapping my hands seemed to evoke a little more enthusiasm. But, as soon as I mentioned Yasaiya-san’s magic word, the fish got extremely excited! That magic word?… “Koi-yoooo!”.
I then moved down onto the lower level of the bank to get some photos of the up and downstream views of the river, as well as closer ones of the Koi themselves. The Koi freaked-out, scarpering downstream! When the owner arrived, he explained that he deliberately never went to the lower area of the bank, because he wanted the fish only to become accustomed to being fed from the upper level where he was stood. The reason for this was simply because he didn’t want the Koi to become too trusting of people at close quarters, as he was worried that people might attempt to steal them. However, theft has never been an issue in reality, it’s more to the contrary! He said that there’s a few fish that have been put their by old people who either didn’t want to keep Koi anymore, or people who saw an isolated Koi in another river, and decided to move it to be with his Koi, as it would get fed a decent meal at least once a day!
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The river where these Koi reside, is a ‘flow-through’ system in every sense of the term! The Koi are kept within that area of the river because of a small waterfall just upstream of where they reside, and another one downstream. The river is also very shallow, with many areas being barely deep enough to cover the entire height of the Koi’s bodies. The Koi however, seem very happy, and clearly in good physical condition. To watch Yasaiya-san’s interaction with the Koi, and how they have very much become his pets & friends, is really quite captivating!
Keeping Koi in rivers has pretty much the same risks as mud ponds, yet despite everything, they often have very good survival instincts. For example, I visited Japan this year in the rainy season, and took these photos just after most of the rainy season had finished. Not only does Japan’s rainy season’s rain cause the river to come into spate mode, the water also becomes very turbid because of all the dirt that gets stirred up and suspended in the process. That’s not all though, heavy rainfall also causes water that permeates through anything geological to massively change it’s chemistry. All manner of minerals, metals, and organics become either dissolved, or held in suspension. Such changes can cause massive changes in pH, and huge losses of oxygen, along with very high conductivity levels. This tends to very easily damage a Koi’s condition, in terms of colour, skin, or often internal problems. But it’s fair to say, that these Koi have done a pretty good job at surviving thus far, and I guess it’s largely down to the regular feeding that gives the Koi the energy to endure the hardships that get thrown their way.
Thanks to Mike Snaden for sharing what I think is a lovely story about Yasaiya-san and his ‘wild’ Nishikigoi.