The Quintessential Koi Fish

Koi fish, or more specifically Nishikigoi, are domesticated fish that are kin to the common carp. They are kept in outdoor ponds and water gardens for decorative purposes, and sometimes for good luck in most Asian societies. The word “koi” simply means “carp” in Japanese; however, it holds special significance due to the fact that it is similar in sound to another Japanese word which means “love or affection,” hence the symbolism for love and friendship in Japan. Others believe that the symbolisms for koi fish are perseverance, courage, persistence, ambition, individualism, and strength. Perhaps, these stem from the popular legend telling that once a koi succeeds in reaching the final waterfall on its upstream swim, it becomes a water dragon. For this reason, they have become popular subjects in artwork such as paintings and sculpture, and even in tattoos.

Koi come in a variety of colors and color patterns, and are classified on these bases. The most common colors are white, black, red, yellow, orange, and blue, but they can also come in shades of cream, near-lavender, and green. Many koi breeders strive to attain a certain color or color combination when raising their fish, and new varieties are known to have developed from these efforts, such as the Butterfly Koi and the Gin Rin Koi. The most popular category is what is called the “Big Three” or Gosanke, composed of the Kohaku, Taisho Sanke (Taisho Sanshoku), and Showa Sanke (Showa Sanshoku) varieties. The metallic colored Ogons, which give the impression of perfectly hammered gold or platinum pieces, are especially famous in the United States.

China was first to introduce the common carp into Japan some 400 to 600 years ago, where it was bred for color in the early 1800s into what is now known as the koi fish. By the 20th century, the hobby of breeding koi fish caught on. The turning point came when, in 1914 during the annual exposition in Tokyo, it was established that the development of color variations in koi can be made possible.

Today, koi fish breeding is not confined to just Japan or other Asian communities, but also everywhere around the world. Many find it a worthwhile hobby, and experience fulfillment especially in the thought that they can bond with their wards. Koi are known to recognize their caretakers, and are gentle creatures which can actually be fed straight from one’s hand. They are non-violent water dwellers who basically mind their own business – although some koi can grow up to 24 inches in length, smaller fish are perfectly safe when they are placed together in the same environment. However, when it comes to feeding, the smaller fish may not exactly be able to compete with these voracious omnivores.

Most pet stores sell koi, but the special and more expensive varieties can be procured from Japanese koi importers, garden centers or shops that focus on koi fish breeding and raising. Pond items, food, medicine and other koi fish necessities can also be found in these places. Koi can range in size from 3 inches to 30 inches when sold. But no matter the size, a koi fish can live up to thirty years old – just make sure they’re healthy and happy.