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Thread: How Times Change: Koi History

  1. #1
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    How Times Change: Koi History

    The latest e-Rinko has an interview of Senichi Mano of Izumiya Koi Farm. He is often seen in the magazine due to his positions in various organizations. Being one of the more senior active breeders, he has perspective that is worth reading, despite the usual translation issues.

    I have read histories of the mountain areas of Japan in which migrant winter work is described, a practice going back centuries. When winter arrived there was no farming work that could be done. The low productivity in the mountains did not allow people to spend the cold months repairing tools and engaging in home manufactures as occurred in areas with high productivity. People would travel to other areas to support themselves, if allowed. (Travel regulations in the feudal era were complex.) These were subsistence farmers, a significant portion of whose crops were turned over to the feudal lords, although in the mountains they often succeeded in hiding some (... rather like hiding moonshine stills in Appalachia??) . Even after the Meiji Restoration led to modernization of society, mountain farmers were among the poorest. Men capable of physical labor would travel wherever work could be found, to the cities, to lumbering camps, wherever a day's food could be earned. Older daughters sometimes had to go, too, because there would be only so much food on hand. This was avoided if possible, since some would end up in that line of work no family wants for a daughter.

    I had the sense that this annual migration had pretty much ended by the time of the World War, due to the plentiful positions in the military and industry brought about by Japan's expansionist policies during the 1930s. Mano-san makes a comment indicating otherwise. He comments that until the mid-1960s, koi were left in the field ponds to care for themselves over winter, and the koi farmer would head off to work elsewhere. That is the time frame when use of plastic bags and building greenhouses changed the koi industry. Mano-san also comments on how times have changed during the winter months. It was rare to have customers over the winter. Now, customers come through the snows in January and February, looking for entries to compete in the All-Japan show in Tokyo, and foreigners. Mano does not say it, but I get the sense he was thinking... those crazy, wonderful foreigners buying koi in the snow.

    When we look at photos of the koi farm facilities of Niigata, there is a sense of prosperity. So many vehicles, greenhouses, ponds and equipment must mean these are prosperous people. Perhaps so, today. The hard times would not be forgotten, however, by those who are still alive today and remember their fathers leaving for months over winter so the family could be supported. The younger generations, with i-phones and such, must think of such things as ancient history.

    I just commented in another thread that the center of koi breeding is now in the south. Still, the romance of the birthplace of koi remains strong.

  2. #2
    Oyagoi HEADACHE6's Avatar
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    While I've only been to Japan once, It didn't take me long to notice there are Koi Farmers & then there are Koi Businesses.

  3. #3
    Jumbo RobF's Avatar
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    This westerner’s comments upon the origins and myths are in a similar vein. Izumiya is prominently mentioned (magoi pictured). http://koikichi.com/origins-myths/
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails How Times Change: Koi History-magoi.jpg  

  4. #4
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Peter Waddington's 'history of koi', linked by Rob, may lack accuracy in some details, but assuredly gives a more accurate sense of how koi developed than most versions appearing in generalist books and such.

    In the e-Rinko interview, Mano-san comments that it was not until the mid-1960s that nishikigoi became a cash crop. Bartering and one-off sales seem to have been the norm in the early days when it was not feasible to transport koi in quantity.

    That it took plastic bags to allow an industry to spring up serves as a reminder of how much human progress has occurred over the past 60 years. Living standards have increased at such a rapid pace that it is comparable to what was accomplished over centuries previously. I recall accompanying my grandmother on a shopping trip in the 1950s. We took a bus downtown, it then being common for a household to have just one car. She took me to a pet shop where I got a goldfish to keep in a bowl. The fish was placed in a white heavy paper carton that had a metal wire handle, like the containers some oriental restaurants still use for take-out. I can recall the water dripping out on my pants and being worried there would be no water left by the time we got home on the bus. I was probably 4 or 5 years old, as she passed before I turned 6. I do not recall the goldfish. I just remember worrying it would die before we got home. Plastic bags were quite an advance.

  5. #5
    Oyagoi RayJordan's Avatar
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    I have also have a strong interest in koi history and genealogy. In reality there is very little documented history prior to the end of World War II. Colored Carp were bred and grown in ponds used to irrigate rice fields along with food carp as mostly a novelty by a few families in a few villages in the Yamakoshi area of Niigata. Some colored carp were bought by rich noblemen for their garden ponds and also donate to temples for their ponds. After WWII the occupying forces of American and British troops looked for unique opportunities for crops and products that could be sold and boost the economy. A british colonel was shown some colored carp in the Niigata area in the late 40's or earlier 50's and thought they could be part of the pet fish trade that already included goldfish being sent to the west. Several marketing names were tried to make the colored carp seem more appealing to western fish keepers. Nishikigoi was finally the name that stuck which was morphed into koi to be easier for westerners to pronounce.

    While the early basic genetic root stock was created prior to WWII the real serious efforts to breed better koi began in the late fifties and early sixties.
    Disclosure:These opinions are based on my experience and conversations with persons I consider accomplished koi keepers and do not reflect the viewpoint of any organization.

  6. #6
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Ray: What can you tell us about the British colonel? ...We tend to think of the occupation as being American, not 'the Allies'. Was his involvement part of the reason the koi hobby advanced sooner in the UK than in other western countries?

  7. #7
    Oyagoi RayJordan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeM View Post
    Ray: What can you tell us about the British colonel? ...We tend to think of the occupation as being American, not 'the Allies'. Was his involvement part of the reason the koi hobby advanced sooner in the UK than in other western countries?
    Hi Mike,

    Sorry, I do not know more about the British involvement in encouraging the progress of koi breeding. I have seen somewhere a photo of this British officer standing over several elevated concrete tanks and a reference to his encouragement to develop koi breeding into a industry. I have collected a lot of early koi books and almost complete a collection of rinko magazines going back to the 1960's so it in one of those I think. The Japanese government via their inland fisheries program also played a substantial role in encouraging the development of a koi industry.

    BTW, the new film, Emperor, just released was worth seeing. Emperor is about the very early days of the Allied Occupation and the decision of whether to arrest the Emperor for war crimes along with the top military and government officials.

  8. #8
    Jumbo RobF's Avatar
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    Ray, That photo is in Nishikigoi Mondo.

    I am no expert on Japanese artifacts but here is an interesting piece: Japanese Arita charger, 18th century, decorated with a central circular reserve painted with four carp leaping over waves beneath clouds within a border of six arched panels alternately depicting ho-ho birds and pine trees, diameter: 55cm. Balon points out that there don’t appear to be depictions of carp in Japan prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1543. Wiki says that goldfish were introduced to Japan in 1602 and appeared in Europe in 1611 in Portugal.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails How Times Change: Koi History-arita-charger-18th-century.jpg  

  9. #9
    Sansai Si Van Nguyen's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RobF View Post
    Ray, That photo is in Nishikigoi Mondo.

    I am no expert on Japanese artifacts but here is an interesting piece: Japanese Arita charger, 18th century, decorated with a central circular reserve painted with four carp leaping over waves beneath clouds within a border of six arched panels alternately depicting ho-ho birds and pine trees, diameter: 55cm. Balon points out that there don’t appear to be depictions of carp in Japan prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in 1543. Wiki says that goldfish were introduced to Japan in 1602 and appeared in Europe in 1611 in Portugal.
    Thanks for showing this piece! One can see 4 different types of koi right there! Maybe even a doitsu scale koi. This piece clearly shows that koi were also revered as art and not thought of as just food at that time.

  10. #10
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Ray: I will go through some of my history books to see if I can find anything about the role of the British Commonwealth occupying force in promoting trade. I know it was much involved in repatriation of Japanese from the colonies established during the mainland Asia expansion, but know nothing of its role in economic matters.

    Rob's post reminds me of an historical tidbit I posted some years ago. So, I'm copying it here:

    I've read various references to carp, goldfish and garden ponds in Japanese histories, but nothing quite indicating a true hobby with a competitive aspect prior to the 1800s. Until now, that is. In a curious "narrative history", Samurai William (G. Milton, 2002), there is a passage (at p. 197) concerning Richard Cocks, an Englishman charged to establish a trade facility in Japan in the early 1600s, I found quite interesting:

    "Cocks also developed a passion for goldfish, which he collected with an avidity that surprised even the Japanese. His enthusiasm had been sparked by Li Tan's brother, who presented him with 'a littell fishpond (or jarr) with live fish in it.' [Li Tan was a Chinese trader in the area.] Cocks soon started a collection, buying so many prize fish that they became the talk of Hirado. His aquarium attracted the envy of the local nobility, who tried to get their hands on some of the finer specimens. Often, they were extremely blunt in expressing their desire for one or other of Cocks's golden friends. On one occasion, King Foyne's brother learned that Cocks had a particularly fine fish 'and sent desire to have it'. Cocks was reluctant to part with it, but knew that he would cause great offense by refusing, 'so I gave it him.' Nobutoki was delighted and showed his gratitude by sending back 'a great black dogg'.

    "Cocks soon grew annoyed at the constant plunder of his goldfish and did his best to ignore the requests from Hirado's fish-obsessed nobles. But all too often he was forced to relent:'The King of Hirado sent to beg my two golden fishes', he wrote on one occasion, '...which, much against my will, I gave him."

    The reference to "King" Foyne is to the local feudal lord or daimyo. The time period was around 1614. Can't you just see the nobles of the place trying to one up one another by obtaining the more prized fish? ...And poor Cocks does not seem to have figured out that he should have gotten into a fish trade with the Chinese traders to supply the wealthy Japanese while waiting the two years it took for a ship to return from England to Japan. But, Cocks does not seem to have been able to think outside the box when it came to trade opportunities.

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