The History of Nishikigoi

Koi are descendants of the common carp, Cyprinus Carpio. Though originally native to Eastern Europe and Persia, Carp were introduced to Europe, North America, South America, Asia and other areas of the world as a commodity in trade or to serve as food for people.

While there may have been natural mutations of carp which featured patches of color on them in China, the Japanese are generally recognized as the creators of Nishikigoi. The Japanese were the first to take the naturally occurring mutations and develop them further. Japanese rice farmers kept them as food fish but somewhere between the 1820s and 1830s, they began to breed some of the carp for aesthetic appeal.

The farmers kept the colourful carp as pets for themselves. National interest for koi in Japan increased tremendously when Emperor Hirohito was presented koi for the Imperial Palace moat in 1914.

Today, the Japanese term for a wild carp is Magoi. The three naturally occurring color mutations of the wild carp are Tetsu (Iron Magoi), Doro (Mud Magoi), and Asagi (Asagi Magoi).

The skin tone of the Tetsu is close to the black on Showas. Some believe the Showa developed from the Testu because of their similar black coloring.

Above: Tetsu or Iron Magoi

The Doro has a light brown tone to its skin and may have been a mutation from Tetsu. It is speculated that Chagoi (brown koi) and Ogon (metallic koi) may have been created by mating Tetsu (iron) Magoi, Doro (mud) Magoi and Doitsugoi (German scaled Carp). Doitsugoi were brought to Japan from Europe to be used as food carp around 100 years ago.

The modern Asagi has a dark blue and light blue reticulated pattern to its scales and is a direct descendant of the Asagi Magoi.

Above left: Konjo Asagi, Above right: Gin rin Chagoi

Asagi Magoi and then Asagi led to the development of a number of different types of koi. Including: Kohaku (white koi with red pattern); Taisho Sanshoku or Sanke (white koi with red and black pattern); Koromo or Goromo (white koi with red pattern with gray, black, blue or purple reticulation to scales in the red pattern) and Shiro Bekko (white koi with black pattern).

Above: Shiro Bekko

The Asagi Magoi are also responsible for the development of a family tree that included Ki-Matsuba (yellow koi with black reticulation on its scales) and Aka Matsuba (orange koi with black reticulation to its scales).

Above: Aka Matsuba

In Japan, many highlights in history are dated and described according to the reign of a particular Emperor. These "eras" in history are also used to date and signify the history of koi development.


BUNKA AND BUNSEI ERA (1804 to 1829)

During this time the first red koi were produced in Japan. At first, the red (hi) appeared on their cheeks. White koi were also produced and crossed with the red cheeked koi and the result was white koi with red abdomens.

TENPO ERA (1830 to 1843)

Breeding efforts continued to strive for changes that would make the koi more appealing to the eye. White koi with the red located on the forehead (Zukinkaburi), a completely red head (Menkaburi) red lips (Kuchibeni) and finally red spots on the black (Satassa) were developed.

MEIJA ERA (1868 to 1912)

Above: Kohaku

In 1888, the white koi with red spots on their backs developed into the modern Kohaku. A koi farmer named Gosuke in Utogi (now Ojiya City, Niigata Prefecture) was responsible for creating the modern Kohaku.

The German scaled carp were first brought to Japan in this era also. These German scaled carp were crossed with normal-scaled koi to create what are called Doitsu scaled koi. Today koi farmers have created German (Doitsu) scaled versions of most types of koi.

TAISHO ERA (1912 to 1926)

Above: Taisho Sanke

The white koi with red and black pattern (Taisho Sanshoku or Sanke) was named in honor of the Taisho era. A Sanke was first shown at an exhibition in 1915 but was believed to be 15 years old at the time. If so, that would mean it was actually born in the Meija era. In 1917, excellent bloodlines of Sanke were developed and Sanke farmers of today can still trace their parent fish bloodlines back to these origins. The Shiro Utsuri (black koi with white pattern) was developed in 1925.

Above: Shiro Utsuri

SHOWA ERA (1927 to January 1989)

Above: Showa

Many feel the Showa Era had by far the largest impact on koi history in terms of development and improvement in the quality of existing types of koi. During this time koi keeping went from being a local hobby to a national hobby and subsequently to a national business. Koi farmers moved from raising koi as a hobby to making it a full time career. With an expanding market and the number of koi farmers rising, competition and a desire to create new types of koi led to many improvements. The hobby and sales spread worldwide during the Showa Era as well.

The final member of the "Big Three," the Showa (black koi with red and white pattern) was first produced in 1927. Showa were created by crossing Ki Utsuri (black koi with yellow pattern) and Kohaku (white koi with red pattern). Because the yellow and red color mix resulted in a yellowish brown pattern, improvements were sought to improve the color to a red.

Above: Ki Utsuri

Starting in 1964, a gentleman named Kobayashi began accomplishing the improvements in red quality. Today the Kobayashi bloodline of Showa is the main quality bloodline that koi breeders are using to improve Showa.

In 1929, the first Gin Rin (diamond scaled) koi were developed. The reflective quality of the scales earned this breed its name, as they resembled a shiny diamond in the light. The Gin Rin is layered on top of color pigments on the scales.

Above: Gin Rin Kohaku

After 25 years of patient breeding Ogon (metallic yellow koi) were produced in 1946. The modern Lemon Ogon (Yamabuki Ogon) as we know it today was developed in 1957 by crossing the rare Kigoi (non-metallic yellow koi) with the Ogon (metallic yellow koi). This resulted in a significant quality improvement of metallic koi and has led to many metallic versions the other non-metal types of koi.

Above: Yamabuki Ogon

The Oranji Ogon (metallic orange koi) was developed in 1953 and the Kujaku (metallic white koi with metallic orange pattern and gray or black Matsuba "net" pattern) was first produced in 1960. In the last nine years Kujaku have seen marked increases in quality development and popularity as a result.

Above left: Kujayku, Above right: Matsuba

Ai-Goromo (white with gray, black, blue or purple reticulated scale) inside their red pattern were created in 1950 by crossing male Kohaku (white koi with red pattern) with female Asagi (dark blue and light blue reticulated net pattern scaled koi which sometimes has orange abdomen color).

Above: Ai Goromo

Tacho Yoshioka realized a goal of pro producing the first Midori-goi (green koi) in, 1963 after 20 years of effort. Unfortunately the gene to produce Midori-goi is very recessive so few are produced, and most generally turn black as adults.

Above: Midori-goi

HEISEI ERA (January 1989---Present)

Above: Yamato-Nishiki

There are koi farmers today who would like to name a new koi in honour of this Emperor's era. Some breeders have coined the Doitsu Yamato Nishiki (the leather German scaled metallic Sanke) with the name Heisi Nishiki. Not all farm of this type of koi have adopted this name and still refer to them as Doitsu Yamato-Nishiki.


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