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Would nishikigoi had developed outside of Japan?

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  • Would nishikigoi had developed outside of Japan?

    Hi Folks,

    Taking a bit of a breather and wanted to spice things up by posing a question to you all:

    Would nishikigoi as we know them today exist if the first color mutation had happened somewhere else in the world and not amongst a small and tightly-knit farming community in the Niigata countryside? Would people from elswhere have thought to selectively breed from these color mutations to produce something new and endevour to stabilize the varieties that we know and love today.

    I think there's a lot more at play than the simple breeding aspect behind the koi that we see today. Of course there's nice koi being breed nowadays outside of Japan, but would we have nishikigoi had they not caught the passing interest of some farmer looking to fill the spare time in his day with something just a little brighter? I'm sure that mutations are a pretty common phenomenon throughout the world, so there must have been carp sometime throughout history and somewhere else in the world that took this first step just as their counterparts in Japan did...yet nobody thought to try and develop them any further.

    I'm interested in hearing what you all have to say!
    Brian Sousa
    Koi-Bito Forum
  • #2

    Ok I'll play.

    I am going to say YES and cite the development of goldfish as my reason for saying so.

    The common goldfish comes in a variety of shapes and colours. Like the carp, the everyday 'Auratus' is a dull coloured fish. It's development into the fish we know today started in China, first with the colour variants and then the fin, eye and body variations.

    The UK, USA and most of all Japan can all lay claim to devoloping variations but their origin was China. So who's to say that if things had been different China could have been the birthplace of koi.

    back to you.

    rgds Bern
    South East Koi Club


    • #3

      Hi Bern,

      I'll be silent for a while until we have a few more opinions.
      Last edited by Brian; 03-17-2020, 11:54 AM.
      Brian Sousa
      Koi-Bito Forum


      • #4

        Mmmmm... I too think the answer would have to be yes but....
        I doubt they would be the animals that we see today.
        I think there is something of the Japanese culture that has brought them to where they are now and I don't think that would be there had they been developed and encouraged in another culture.
        For sure they would be coloured carp and they would be well developed or advanced from the original genetic hic cup that started all this off, but the current top quality koi, and the hobby generally, are indebted to the culture in which they/it grew and developed.

        "Gentlemen prefer ponds"


        • #5

          Believe it or not I've given that question some thought before and I don't think the colored common carp would be anywhere near what they are today if the rice farmers of Niigata hadn't started selecting and breeding them.

          From what I've read over the years about the development of Nishikigoi the Japanese rice farmers would actually take the koi they had selected for breeding into their homes in the winter. Also, from what I've read and heard, they always plan for the future. Considering that they were snowed in for many months and couldn't do much but stay inside and just take care of the bare essentials that would give them a lot of time to study and consider how they would handle the development of the colored carp.

          I can imagine several farmers getting together during those cold winter months and discussing the carp they had found with color mutations and which ones they would breed together.

          I don't think any other culture or location would have led to what we see today.



          • #6

            Selective breeding happened in other parts of the world but mostly with mammals. I know nothing about anthropology so I'll take a Socratic stab at the question.

            I think it takes a aquaculturist point of view -- you have to have folks whose livelihood depends on the animal they are breeding and those animals have to be completely domesticated. If wild stock are plentiful then you don't need to domesticate.

            Did these conditions exist elsewhere for the common carp? I dunno but it seems likely that they did not -- I know of no other place where the carp was purposely raised as a food animal nor of a people who were so dependent on it. Then again, I know jack squat about agricultural anthropology so I could be wrong. ops:


            • #7

              Carp were introduced into the UK and most of Europe by the Romans as food fish.

              Kept in ponds and introduced into lakes they developed into the short, deep, dumpy lake fish as opposed to the riverene genotype found in the esturies of the Black Sea where they originated.

              Left to their own devices the Europeans bred them to be scaleless to aid preparation for the table.

              I guess Japanese Koi were going the same way shapewise. The Matsonosuke influence brought back the riverene shape when he outcrossed with Magoi.

              rgds BERN
              South East Koi Club


              • #8


                Natural colour mutations must have been going on for centuries long before the farmers of Niigata selectively started to inter breed. However those breeding carp would have no doubt had alternative motives and shown no interest in the colour variation. The colour variants in the wild would likely be sitting ducks for predators and therefore would not survive and of course not stabilise.

                So therefore I would suggest that no, without the Japanese, koi would not have existed as they do today without them.

                Selective thoroughbred breeding of all sorts of animals has gone on around the world for many years all of which needed some sort of catalyst to start them.

                I guess it fair to suggest the gift of koi to the emperor in the Tokyo show/exhibition of 19XX instigated national interest in Koi.

                Thereafter the numbers of westerners and increased openess in Japan following WW2 would have enabled more people to actually see koi in the first place.

                Mark Gardner


                • #9

                  I'll show I am a dunce here. I thought Koi developed in China. And if they didn't I don't know how LONG it would have taken any other civilization to turn to ornamental carp....remember the 10,000 chimps typing at the keyboards would randomly type the great american novel within 10,000 yrs. So one of us chimpanzees might have been the first guy to have "koi."


                  • #10

                    Maybe I am the dunce, but I am sure I have read that coloured carp were kept and bred in China, many hundreds of years before Japanese nishiki-goi.

                    If I remember corectly, farmers dicovered and produced an orange variety of carp and presented them to some long ago Emporor or Prince, who kept them in his garden pond. However, I would not clasify a single one coloured variety to be nishiki-goi.

                    If I am right about this history, the fact that they did not produce other varieties throughout the hundreds of years of oportunity before the Niigata breeders began to do so, makes the development of true nishiki-goi all that more an intrinsic Japanese phenomenon.


                    • #11

                      Niigata is the home of Nishikigoi... not Japan.

                      Before there was electricity, reliable transportation, media entertainment, or the other mundane features of contemporary life, there was a people in desolate mountains, wed to the barren land by feudal custom. Uneducated, impoverished, and isolated. During the winter months they were even isolated from one another. In the snowbound darkness of winter, with every piece of fuel precious, the boredom had to be indescribable, but all the senses would be sharpened by the quiet ... and the certainty that survival could not be assumed. For days and weeks. And months of deep snows.

                      And in the mean structure considered home were the carp saved as the source of life in the year ahead. Would they be ignored? The living things that spoke no words, but moved about in their rough reservoir. Those carp would be the center of much attention. Just as the arabian tribes would study the stars and develop astronomy in their barren desert homeland, and the native peoples of the arctic would develop more descriptions of snow than our language can convey, the Niigata peasants would study their source of life on those long tedious times. Imagine how in such a world the one that was red or white or even just mottled must have been seen. All that had been for generations before was changed.

                      And when a peasant braved the snows to visit a neighbor down the road? What was there to say or do? What that had not been done repeatedly for a hundred years of short-lived generations of these mountain people? It is not difficult to hear one say: "The white one is getting a black spot." There is a cause for serious discussion.The unchanging repetition of days was broken.

                      Niigata. It had to be Niigata. There had to be isolation. There had to be poverty. There had to be little freedom of movement. There had to be winter. There had to be a community. There had to be a culture that valued beauty in nature. Not scandinavia, the people moved about. Not north america, there was great richness of foodstuffs, even in winter for nomadic peoples. China? Perhaps, but the chinese sense of beauty was drawn from the fantastic, the monsters of imagination where deformed goldfish and deformed feet are beautiful. Central europe? They did create the better food fish with gross size and lacking scales, but those people's were to survive by their ingenuity in warmaking, not in artistic appreciation. Isolation is a form of security.

                      A thousand monkeys would not know what they had done, and so it would be lost. In Niigata they knew.

                      It had to be Niigata.


                      • #12

                        wow. beautifully said Mike.

                        That should be part of a forward to a koi book. If you do not write one, somone should quote you.


                        • #13

                          I think you have to really look at the people and the culture of Japan
                          to appreciate it could not have happened anywhere else.
                          Look at the influenence China had. Yet the japanese people changed thier major arts and religion to suit thier own culture. look at bonsai, also gardens,quite different in japan than china. look at the religion, it came from india via china yet without the two japanese sects that defined buddism in japan today. things would not be as it is. China developed carp with extreme body shapes and finage, Japan was seeing a more natural expression
                          The art of suiseki, rock appreciation gives an idea of the ability to notice subtle images of things recognizable in the world around them.
                          It was the japanese people that noticed besides color, things like gin rin
                          and the scaless carp of germany.
                          Dick Benbow


                          • #14

                            That is quite an interesting question with many thoughtful responses.

                            I have to beleive the answer lies between. I've no doubt that "colored carp" would have come around at some place and some time. Too many carps being bred around the world for food that would eventually bring out unusual variants.

                            Too many other parallels. Dogs, chickens, horses cows, sheep. etc. all having been selectively bred, ultimately for show. Even in more recent times selectively bred ornamental fish af many species. The search for unusual and beautiful specimens through selective breeding is inherint to mankind in general.

                            Saying that much, without fish farmers in Niigata, Japan, who had lives steeped in culture and tradition, there would be no koi as we see them today.

                            Koi are the result of a lot more than simple selective breeding of domesticated livestock. The murky beginnings might have been along those lines, but the koi we've seen for at least the last fifty years are different. The koi we see today, and have seen since the onset of "Modern Nishikigoi" many decades ago, are the result of powerful vision as developed from the culture and the life of the breeders in Niigata and directed through selective breeding and keeping techniques there. The work others have done has been built upon that initial foundation.

                            So, for me, koi as we know them today are uniquely Japanese. Any other type of colored carps that might have come along as the result of some other culture/situation/process would not be "koi."



                            • #15

                              All the "sizzle" of the carp steak was developed by the Japanese, So "koi" wouldn't have been "developed" anywhere but in the good ol Ni Pon A.
                              But thinking that humans back then were bored is egocentric thinking. Struggling to survive is not boring. The religions back then were more central to ones life and definitely were not boring, AND lastly no matter where someone lives, or in what time, if they are bored they are the bore.
                              To simplify major populations and determine discoveries came from boredom is not right.
                              As in the arabs and there rapid development of navigatiing by the stars. Several factors aided the rapid development:
                              The first was that the terrain(desert) was an ever changing sea of sand dunes. therefore trails (trade routes) were never permanent, or even semi-permanent. (there was a need)
                              The second was that travelling at night was preferred due to high day time temperatures. (there was a solution)
                              And thirdly the skies are much more consistently clear in that global region. (it was even easier for people in this region)
                              the last I'll mention is that navigating using the stars was easier to come to understand than navigating on open water due to a solid platform and the additional variable concerning currents. (and of course other populations and races needed to navigate using the stars they just had more obstacles to overcome.)
                              other populations in different parts of the world either had a stable land and landmarkers or were unlikely to have a clear or stable sky.(ditto)
                              And the above is still a simplistic veiw, but alittle more fleshed out than the "barren desert" theory. (politics, religion, trade secrets, dogma)

                              has anyone promoted the idea that the unique coloration of koi might have been developed for practical reasons? easier to catch them if you can see them, and they'd look cooler on a plate.

                              I'm not looking to argue, just to point out ain't nothing simple and ain't none of them people back then thought the same way as you or me.


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