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Thread: The history of koi keeping in the USA.

  1. #1
    Daihonmei
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    The history of koi keeping in the USA.

    The history of koi keeping in the USA.

    As a fan of history ( if you don't know or remember it, you are doomed to repeat it!) in general I find 'koi history' to be particularly interesting. I think it adds a lot to the enjoyment of our hobby when we explore just how we got here to this point in the year 2008.

    I think we all know that Koi keeping started in Hawaii and Southern California first. This time line began as far back as the 1950s but really came into it's own as a well recognized hobby by the early 1970s. This is all well documented in documented in older pop koi literature and books. And the origin of koi from those cradles of 'koi civilization' were of course, Japan. Interesting enough, it was not Niigata koi culture that directly impacted these early USA outposts of koi keeping, but rather Hiroshima. This was the jump off point, not because of it's history within Japan but rather because it was the place of export for Japanese people/labor. The Japanese were not known to travel extensively in the 1800s and early 1900s. But the Hawaiian plantations, Los Angeles and San Francisco all attracted the workers of Southern Japan. And the end of world war II and it's specific impact on Hiroshima, accelerated that trend. And along with the people came the culture.

    If you think about koi ponds, you usually picture a warm setting or region of the country. And this imagine is real as in the early days, with the basic pond environments of the USA, these warmer regions were really the only realistic place for keeping koi alive. Still, it is the presence and migration of the Japanese immigrant into 'less balmy climates of the USA that precedes most koi keeping.

    The exception to this trend line is really Florida. You would think that koi would be as old as southern California or Hawaii in it's koi keeping history? But it is not. That is not to say that 'koi sightings' were not observed early in the sunshine state. But these observations were spotty and fleeting thru the 1950s and 1960s. I find this very interesting and kind of surprising.
    And if you dig a little deeper you will find that koi keeping in Florida was more linked to the tropical fish trade ( a once huge industry in Florida) more than a continuum of the migration of the hobby from Hiroshima to Hawaii, Southern Cal or San Fran. That trend line tended to run up the coast into Seattle and Washington state. This is not to say that early Japanese influences were absent in Florida. Kamihata, for instance, along with the famous Herbert Axelrod attempted to establish farms in Florida in the early years. And Yoshida and others also took a stab at it. Here and there, local Japanese tried but never seemed to succeed?
    Does anyone else know of local efforts in Florida that just burned out, in the 1950s, 60s and early 70s?
    JR

  2. #2
    Jumbo
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    JR


    Perhaps I can throw some other events and dates into the timeline:


    1924 - Kyoto Expo - US Embassy aclaim Yamakoshi Nishikigoi and the following year 120 were sent from Yokohama by ship to the US, 108 survive the journey

    1932 - Koutaro Kataoka, owner of a store in New York, imported tosai to the US
    1938 - the book 'Fancy Carp' was published to introduce Nishikigoi to the world
    1939 - Nishikigoi were part of the Japanese exhibit at the Sanfracisco World Expo
    Post WW2 - the allied alliance identified Nishikigoi as a product which the Japanese could export as they tried to rebuild the country
    Mark Gardner

  3. #3
    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    JR: I know there was koi breeding occurring in Florida in the mid-70s, but do not know by whom. My first exposure was to koi kept at Slocum's Water Gardens in Winter Haven in the mid-70s. The larger ones (18"-20"?) were personal pets not for sale. I recall a Shusui and Aka Matsuba. (Didn't know the varieties then.)There were 4-5" tosai being raised in greenhouse tanks with their waterlillies and such. These were 18-24" deep metal troughs, which were raised on legs to be waist height for ease in working with the aquatic plants. Hundreds, perhaps even a couple of thousand tosai were in these aquatic 'benches'. They were predominately metallics with a lot of black, gold and orange. They did not have koi in their large in-ground ponds where lotus, papyrus, etc. were grown. The larger koi were kept in a decorative pond with a fountain. I do not recall metallics among those. The tosai were only in the raised bench-type tanks where aquatic plants were grown. The tosai might have been offspring from a flock spawning on site, but I think they had to have been purchased elsewhere. So, I expect there was koi breeding occurring in the area, which is within easy driving distance to the tropical fish farms in the Tampa area. (Slocum's, BTW, was no longer operating when last I went through.) ....It was a few years later that I recall seeing promotional stuff from Lilypons announcing that they were starting to carry koi.

  4. #4
    Daihonmei
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    "1932 - Koutaro Kataoka, owner of a store in New York, imported tosai to the US"

    Mark G

    wow, this is a real interesting one to me! Thanks Mark. JR

    Mike, I'm sure the best leads in the history of koi in Florida come from TFH magazine and Herb Axelrod. He WAS a main shaker and mover in tropicals and was very ambitious back in the day. He also had a very strong personal relationship with Kamihata ( Hikari foods) in those days.
    Axelrod used to come and lecture to my club in the mid 1980s. He was shockingly naive and somewhat ignorant about koi and I remember being quite disappointed in his knowledge base especially since it was some of his publications ( really the only ones around) that inspired me back in 1980. Lovely guy but not as focused on koi as his books lead one to believe.
    I think that koi in Florida was a very small world and there were just a few players.

    I recall Ray Jordan mentioning something about his friend Megumi Yoshida and his early efforts to start a farm back in the 1970s?

    Mark, in your country I think it was Roland Seal ( early 1970s) that really got koi interest rolling. Is that your read on it? I know he was a huge influence on the then hobbyist- Peter Waddington.. JR

  5. #5
    Jumbo
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    JR

    I was only born in 1972! ;-)

    I have to be honest that it's only since being here over that the history of Nishikigoi has become of particular interest, specifically because I'm amazed how the people here were ever commited enough to some strange coloured mutations to make them what they are now.

    That said I'm aware of various aspects of history for the hobby in the UK and have a huge collection of old BKKS mags.

    I'm aware of the 'old names' of the BKKS such as Roland Seal who you mention, I've got articles about the inaugral BKKS trip to Japan, etc.

    I have a very vivid image in my head of 2 of the early pioneers of the hobby from a copy of the BKKS magazine being given a bouquet of flowers at the BKKS National, I can even tell you there is a picture of a fox that had been electrocuted on the same page, can't recall their names though.

    Having been a country which got itself so 'organised' with regards to a club scence etc, it a shame that it's in decline there.

    Mark

    p.s. Mondo lists the name of the store in New York, I don't have it to hand at the moment, sorry.

  6. #6
    Daihonmei dick benbow's Avatar
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    Here in Auburn, in Washington state ( as with most West coast cities) we had an influx of farmers from japan in the thirties.

    In a verbal history from my friend who ran a japanese grocery store, he and his Dad came over from Japan in the late 30's by boat, and they brought with them several metal milk containers full of 2-3 inch fry.They dd water changes daily from their rationed water. Only a handful made the long perilous journey to reside in a pond on their property until the dad passed.

    I always loved visiting his store and getting him to tell me the history of the valley which was then one big farming operation. Now it's all paved over with warehouses and trac housing.

    I was priviledged to be among the first members of Puget Sound Koi Club, the first and oldest AKCA club in our state. I was also happy to be a founding Father of Washington Koi and watergarden and it's first president who installed our first show which is now a fixture.

    Mark, I'm just a wee bit older than you ( me and dirt have the same birthdate )
    Dick Benbow

  7. #7
    Jumbo
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    Dick

    One of the Japanese history books I'm currently reading makes reference to life for the Japanese imigrants in California at the start of the second world war.

    It states that in the area Japanese were effectively stripped of their land and homes and placed in virtual concentration camps.

    The evolution of Japan and the Japanese people, in the last 130 years or so is fascinating, a period which spans most of the evolution of Nishikigoi, both in Japan and in their spread worldwide.

    The story you offer of Japanese imigrants keeping Koi alive on the ship with their water rations is wonderful, and so typically Japanese, that ingrained determination to succeed.

    Cheers

    Mark

    p.s. we're all as old as dirt, some of us don't have to dig as deep as other though to find the start of our dirt! ;-)

  8. #8
    Guest Nancy M.'s Avatar
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    Joe Akiyama the son of the original Pacific koi and goldfish store owner, in Westminster California, was also placed in concentration camps with his parents. The Original PK&GF store was located where the Westminster mall sits. This area was originaly orange groves, and Joe's father purchased it and built the koi store. Joe's father sold the land to the city and moved the store to where it now sits, accross the street from its originaal site. Joe retired 17 years ago, the bussines was shut down for 4 years. It reopened as Eastern Nishikigoi 13 years ago.

  9. #9
    Daihonmei
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    Joe's father sold the land to the city and moved the store to where it now sits, accross the street from its originaal site. Joe retired 17 years ago, the bussines was shut down for 4 years. It reopened as Eastern Nishikigoi 13 years ago.

    - That's interesting, I did not know that. JR

    Dick, I think you will find this interesting----- The History of Japanese Immigration -- Brown Quarterly -- v. 3, no. 4 -- Spring 2000
    JR

  10. #10
    Tategoi lypope's Avatar
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    I grew up in Southern California in a very Japanese-American area. Most of my friends parents had been "relocated" during WWII; many had lost the property they owned prior to the War when it was confiscated after their "relocation." It always amazed me how little was taught in school about this horrible injustice, and how the people who suffered were reluctant to talk about it. Most were American citizens, many spoke absolutely no Japanese.

    My ex-father-in-law, American born of Japanese immigrant parents, escaped relocation only because he served in the U.S. Army as did his brother. The rest of their family was sent to Manzanar. I was introduced to the beauty of koi in the 1960's because of these fine people - in those days all the gardeners in SoCal were of Japanese descent and many of them kept koi in backyard ponds. I have no idea where they got them as I don't recall any koi dealers until the early 1970's or so. There was a beautiful theme park in those days called Japanese Village and Deer Park, which had a lovely koi pond. There was a restaurant there which cantalievered over the pond - I recall spending many hours eating udon while watching the koi swim.
    Lynda

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