Fascinating History of Koi...

Read about the history of Koi.

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A Brief History Of Koi

Humble Beginnings

It may be difficult at first to believe that all Koi breeds can trace their bloodlines to the rather plain, black Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio), but if you think about all of the dog or cat breeds that have been developed through selective breeding, it's natural that the same has been achieved with fish.

It is believed that the Common Carp was transported from Eurasia to the Far East over 2,000 years ago, then to Japan through either China or Korea, where they were bred as a food source. Since carp are so hardy, they were able to withstand such long traveling periods. There is evidence that the common carp finally made it to Japan approximately 1,000 years ago.

Rice Paddy It is said thatJapanese farmers kept the carp in mud ponds to supplement their daily diet of rice and vegetables. Most likely the carp were kept in reserved mud ponds rather than in the rice paddies, for carp would eat the rice plants making them more of a burden than a blessing. As many a biologist will tell you, when a species is kept and bred utilizing a small gene pool, mutations will occur. In the case of carp, these mutations produced changes in color. The farmers who owned these mutant fish prized them and kept the fish as collector items instead of food for the table. When these irregularities were discovered, farmers began breeding them as a hobby. It is believed that this happened somewhere between 1840 and 1844, many years after carp were brought to the Japanese Islands. And so, the breeding and keeping of Nishikigoi, or Koi, began and now they are enjoyed by hobbyists worldwide.
Koi Breeding Begins

Though there is not much known about Koi keeping and breeding in the pre-1800 era, it is widely accepted that the true colored Koi originated in Japan from the Niigata prefecture (similar to a small county) during the early 1800s. Nishikigoi originated in the villages of Takerawa, Hi-gashiyama, Ota, Taneuhara, and Kamagashima. Today, some of these villages have been enveloped by the expansion of the city of Ojiya, the home of Nishikigoi. There is actually a beautiful Nishikiogi Information Center in the center of Ojiya that displays traditional and modern Koi ponds and gardens as well as the history of Koi.

There is no official record of the first Koi mutations but it is thought that it was a red carp called "Hookazuki" (Ho-oh-kah-zoo-kee), perhaps from a mutant black carp. It was from this red carp that the first all white Koi was produced. When these two Koi were crossbred, the result was the very first red and white carp. Originally called "Hara-aka", meaning red belly, it wasn't until 1930 that the breed was stabilized and officially documented as the Kohaku, still by far the most well known and popular of the Koi breeds.

Around the same time in Niigata, other Koi mutations were developing. It was not long before the all black mutation, now known as the Magoi, was discovered by breeding two strains of wild carp: one brown/black and the other blue/black. Also from this early mutation came the first true blue Koi, the Asagi, meaning "light blue". It wasn't until years later that an Asagi Sanke was crossed with a Doitsu Metallic Koi and the first Shusui, meaning "autumn water", was bred.

The next stage in Koi breeding is known as the third mutation of Nishikigoi. This is the stage where the Bekko varieties were first discovered and bred. This variety consists of the Shiro Bekko, the Aka Bekko and the Ki Bekko.

shiro bekko
Shiro Bekko
aka bekko
Aka Bekko
ki bekko
Ki Bekko


It was from this handful of Koi breeds that all other Nishikigoi types were bred, with the exception of the Ogon variety (single colored, metallic Koi) which wasn't developed until recently. The last development of this early time was a great breakthrough in Koi breeding and is still revered as one of the most traditional of Koi breeds. A tri-colored Koi called a Taisho Sanshoku, more commonly known as the Sanke, was first seen during the Meiji era (1868-1912). Though it is not known who first developed this breed, the Sanke was exhibited for the first time in 1915, when the Koi was about 15 years old.

In the early 1900s, Koi keeping began to take flight. Koi had become a symbol of luck and prosperity. At this time, most Japanese mansions and upper-class tea houses had at least one Koi pond for viewing pleasure. Japanese Koi breeders then came across a separate type of carp that brought in a new string of Koi breeds: Mirror carp were introduced into Japan from Germany.

Their large, shiny, uniform scales - five to six times larger than normal - became quite popular in Japan and the fish became known as Doitsu (Japanese for "Deutsche" meaning "German" in the German language).

The first successful crosses between the German carp and the Japanese carp were made in 1904. All resulting "scaleless" varieties were to be known as Doitsu Nishikigoi. These modern varieties contributed greatly to the expansion of Nishikigoi throughout the world and finally provided the genetics for the last part of the Koi puzzle - the Ogon.

Meanwhile, after the Taisho Sanke was introduced, the Showa Sanshoku Sanke (later called the Showa) was discovered and with it the came the end of the Taisho era. In 1927 the Showa Sanke made its debut, primarily a black Koi with red and white markings (as opposed to the Sanke which is a predominately white Koi with red and black markings).

In the early 1920s, a wild carp with golden scales was crossed with a Koi in hopes to produce the greatest amount of golden color possible. By 1946 the first Ogon (golden Koi) was produced. The name "Ogon" initially referred only to the gold form, but today it applies to all single-color metallic Koi. Ogons are included within the Hikarimono category ("Hikari" meaning "shining" and "mono" denoting a single color).

All Koi types bred after this time are considered modern breeds that have been developed recently, such as Matsuba Ogon (1960s), Gin-Rin (reflective scaled) varieties (early 1960s), and the Midorigoi (light green Koi) in 1965. All together, 13 colors and their numerous varieties are currently recognized for Nishikigoi.

Yamabuki Ogon

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The Friendly Chagoi

Chagoi are uniform brown Koi. The word "Chat", derived from the Chinese/Japanese word for tea, describes the color of this breed. They are noted for two distinct qualities: their capacity to grow very large chagoiand their extreme friendliness. Introducing a Chagoi to a pondful of nervous Koi has a calming effect, speeding up the hand-feeding training process. The color of Chagoi can vary from saffron through reddish brown to almost black, yet the paler the Koi the more highly it's valued. High quality, blemish-free scale reticulation is a requirement. Gin-Rin Chagoi are also finding favor.

Over the past few years we have had many calls from people who are trying to get their fish to be more tame. We have found that various varieties of Koi have different demeaners, just like people. Some people are friendly, inquisitive and like to be social while other people are bit more reserved and would rather be by themselves.

One of the most rewarding experiences in Koi keeping is having your prized fish great you every morning or night eagerly waiting at the pondside for a handful of Koi food or a Koi Treat. In some situations the fish naturally associate your footsteps with the addition of food to the pond and learn very quickly to adapt in order to get the biggest mouthful. In other situations it seems as though the fish never quite get used to the footsteps and always wait until the activity around the pond edge ceases before they come up to get a bite to eat.

One of the most tried and true methods of calling your fish and teaching them to respond positively to your presence is to add a fish variety that's is by nature very very friendly. We have found at the most friendly fish that will eat out of your hand after just a short while come from the Chagoi, Soragoi, and Ochiba Shigure varieties. These fish can be related to Labrador retriever's of the dog world. Always happy to see you and very friendly and inquisitive. These fish can grow very large and typically are stronger healthwise than other varieties. By adding one to two of these fish to your collection, they can quickly teach the other fish that it is OK to greet you at the pondside in order to get a snack.

Here are some other tips to help your
fish become more friendly:

  1. Feed your fish two to three times a day using high quality food that the Koi enjoy. Typically this is a 35-45% protein food rich in fish products.

  2. Stand by your pond for two to five minutes prior to adding the food to the water. This allows the fish to associate your presence with the addition of food. If you were to walk up throw the food in the pond and walk away immediately, the fish will not have a chance to associate you with their next meal.

  3. Offer the fish a very tasty treat. Whole freeze-dried krill are absolutely gobbled up by Koi and so are own line of specially formulated Koi Treats

  4. Add one or two of the above-mentioned fish to the population. This can literally change the attitude of your group of fish within a few days. Be sure the fish you add are of similar size to the fish in the pond. A six inch fish will not lead thirty inch fish up to eat very easily.

If you wish to get the fish to eat out of your hands, you should hold a snack such as krill on the edge of the water and as the Koi approach watch their reaction. If the Koi come directly to your hand to eat the krill there's not much training needed. If the Koi decide to come within a foot and then back off, you should release the food and allow it to float into the pond. After a few days to a week of this training the Koi should come closer to your hand each day until one day they decide that your hand is not a threat and that it holds the goodies that they're looking for.

Good luck and if anybody has any pictures of their favorite fish eating from their hands, sucking out of a bottle, or other crazy things, please send them to us we would love to see them!

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