Under The Skin

A few years ago, the editor of Koi Carp Magazine accompanied me to Japan. During the course of the visit witnessed the harvesting of many Koi that I had been growing on at various farms all over Japan. One Koi in particular at Oomo Koi farm in Niigata had developed very well, infact the Koi was stunning in every department. It was decided that the Koi was good enough to be entered in Japans second largest Koi show, ZNA All Japan Koi Show.

The Koi was extremely well received and went on to take the runner up prize in the Showa category for her size. After the show the Koi was shipped to the UK and it attracted a lot of attention, everyone who saw it wanted to buy it. This was very ironic as if I had shipped this Koi when I bought it the previous year, it wouldn’t have been given a second glance by the majority of people who saw it.

As a Tosai the Koi was a classic Tategoi, lots of potential, but to the untrained eye this Koi showed nothing, infact it was mistakenly thought by many people who saw the photographs, to be a messy unbalanced Sanke! This is not surprising and has nothing to do with the ability of people to spot a good Koi but more to do with lack of education. Unless as a hobbyist you understand the variety of Koi you are looking at and have some knowledge of the traits from the particular farm the Koi comes from you are always going to looking for the finished article too early, rather than the koi with the potential to be the finished Article.

Buying Koi is all about experience, the more Koi you buy the better you get, to prove this is easy, I guarantee that your first Koi is without doubt, not your best! As a hobbyist the learning curve at the beginning is very steep but as time goes on many seem to hit a brick wall. I have spoken to many customers and they all say that they get to a point where they can spot the best koi in a pond very easily but they want to go one step further and spot the Koi with the potential to be the best in the pond. The reasons for this are two fold, one, its all part of the thirst for knowledge and to really understand the Koi they love and secondly, if you can spot a really good Koi at a younger age you get access to a better level of Koi and ultimately achieve a high level of personal satisfaction.

To get over this ‘wall’ is the hardest part of the hobby, reading all the books and remembering all the names and knowing all the terms in Japanese will not be of any help at all. At this point you need a tutor, someone who has
The experience and the knowledge that you require. If you were a Japanese hobbyist this would be easy as you can quite simply jump in your car and visit a farm and get all the information from source. Here you would be able to see the koi from Tosai to Yonsai all in one place, therefore giving you an insight as to how these koi develop as they get older. However here in the UK this option is only open to those who have the luxury of being able to travel to Japan. I know this is an ever growing number but it is still only a tiny proportion of the overall number of hobbyists. So if the trip to Japan is out, the obvious port of call is your Koi dealer. The trouble is that you may not find what you are looking for there either as many dealers only stock Koi to sell; they are not koi farms so they are probably not going to have Koi from certain breeders in every age bracket. Some may however be able to help, but if you are struggling to feed your hunger for knowledge I may be able to help.

Over the coming months I will try to help with the climbing of the ‘wall’, this will be done with a series of Koi development photographs supplied by various breeders from all over Japan. In addition to this I will add ongoing details of koi that I am currently growing on at many of these farms and hopefully this will help with the understanding of what is really going on under the skin.

To kick off I will just add a little more detail to the Showa a mentioned at the start of the article. This Koi was purchased from Nagaoka based Oomo Koi Farm in Niigata northern Japan in February 2002. At that time it was a fifteen centimetre Tosai that had missed the cut to become one of Fujio Oomos Tategoi. The selection of this Koi was based on two factors, the first was the knowledge that I have of Oomo Showa, the Koi due to the Dianichi and Takeda parent Koi tend to have a very definitive sumi development It appears though the skin in a globular way, i.e. thick deep black ink like droplets. Because of this you do not need to look to find deep black sumi all over the fish, just one small but perfect spot of Sumi is all you need. At this age there is no need to look for an exact pattern in the black markings, or even signs of sumi under the skin, any indication is good enough. The Sumi at this stage in many Showa is invisible under the skin.

It’s a bit like Dalmatian puppies; they are born white and develop the spots later, you know they will come but not where. The second factor was general appreciation, the quality of the white skin and the depth of the red within the scales of the fish; on this koi both these features were very good. At this young age (eight months) body shape is very easy, rough proportions are good enough, the true structure of the koi will not show until it reaches Nisai (two years). The other important detail; the sex of the Koi is impossible to determine, as with all small Tosai purchases it is pure luck at this age. Overall this Koi had everything that I required.

The Koi was then grown at Oomo Koi farms indoor ponds from February to June and grew to 25cm during this period. In June the Koi was placed in a Mud pond for the summer and was then harvested in October at an impressive 44cm. But it was not the growth of this Koi that was the most impressive feature, it was the Kois sumi development, it had gone from ‘messy Sanke’ to ‘stunning Showa’ in less than a year.

Many of you viewing the ‘before and after’ photos may be thinking what a remarkable change, but that is not quite correct, the Koi did not change at all it merely developed. Within the Showa variety this kind of development is not unusual, its always pleasing but not surprising. Showa are one of the varieties that do this, they can appear very unimpressive as Tosai and for some breeders the same goes for their Nisai and Sansai, but if given time and the selection is good the results can be very rewarding.

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