Japan To The UK

The question I’m often asked by people new to Koi is ‘where do you get your koi from and how do they get here?’. To me this seems a strange question to ask as it is something I take for granted. Many people new to the hobby and some more experienced have very little idea of what it takes to bring a koi from a Japanese breeder’s pond to a ‘for sale’ tank in the UK. I will try and give you a short insight as to how the koi make their way half way around the world as quickly and as stress free as possible.


The koi’s journey starts somewhere in Japan. In this case I will use a breeder I know well from Niigata called Marudoh Koi Farm, they export hundreds fish to many countries all over the world and are very experienced with the complexities of packing and preparing the fish for their long journey. On my last visit to Marudoh in May, I purchased several nisai Showa Sanke and Kohaku, these fish being approximately 40cm in length. From experience I decided that five fish would be ample for the box size that I would be using for shipping. In this case approximately 24 x 12 x 12.

The fish in question were purchased on the 22 April and would not be shipped until the 30th so for those eight days the koi would be kept separate from all of Marudoh’s other stocks and would not be fed at all during that period. The koi in question were harvested by Marudoh at the harvest the previous year and had been in his indoor holding ponds ever since. This meant the koi were very strong and in very good condition so there would be no need for any medication prior to shipping. At certain times of year mostly harvest time the fish sometimes require various medications to alleviate the problem of going from mud pond to indoor pond and then to England in as little as three weeks!

On the day of transit the koi were cooled as much as possible to initiate the slowing down of their metabolism. During the evening of the 29th April the koi were placed into their polythene bag with just enough purified water to cover their gills and then the bag was completely filled with oxygen. Before the box was closed and sealed a small parcel of dry ice was placed around the bag as this helps to continue and maintain the cooling process. Once Marudoh and his daughters had completed the boxing process the fish were then placed on board one of his delivery trucks and taken to an agreed meeting point in central Ojiya city.

Here Marudoh was met by my agent and several other Koi breeders, as all the fish I had purchased from Niigata would be travelling to the UK on this shipment.. Once all the particulars had been agreed the refrigerated lorry was sealed and sent on its way to Tokyo airport. Finally leaving Niigata at around midnight.

The road journey takes approximately five to six hours from the mountains of Niigata in the North West to Tokyo’s international Narita airport on Japan’s Pacific coastline. On arrival the koi were loaded onto the plane bound for Heathrow and departed at approximately 10am Japan time, the fish had been in their cardboard boxes for nearly ten hours and hadn’t even left Japan!

Thirteen hours or so later the plane touched down at Heathrow’s terminal four – the cargo facility. This is where the fun can start. The koi are then moved by freight handling people from the plane to Heathrow’s quarantine site, it is a journey that is all of half mile within the main airport but can take up to an unbelievable six hours or more. Due to various legislation’s some sensible, some not so sensible, the koi have to be checked by Customs to ensure only healthy and properly documented koi have been shipped. In this case I was fortunate and got a call from my shipping agent within three hours and I arrived at the quarantine facility at 6.30pm. After making sure I had all the correct boxes and they were indeed my fish, they were signed for and quickly loaded for the hour-long drive around the M25 to my premises.

As with most journeys around the M25 my forty five minute journey took me two hours and I arrived at my premises at 9pm. I had already prepared several bowls for the slow process of nurturing the koi to a point of readiness for placing into our quarantine and sale tanks. The koi were finally removed from the bags which had been their home for nearly 28 hours and the temperature was raised slowly until the fish were ready for release. In this case it took just under four hours, with me finally going home just after 1am. Quite early this time as there were no major delays at either the Japanese or the UK end of the journey. My latest night just for the record is 5.30am!

The next morning at 10am the koi were all looking surprisingly good despite their lengthy ordeal and several customers were already waiting to view the new arrivals. During the next 2-3 weeks all the koi on the shipment were rested and treated to ensure perfect health, this is something I do as I feel the benefits to the Koi and the customer alike are obvious. All the Koi from Marudoh were sold and swimming around in their new owner’s ponds by the middle of June.

I hope this gives you an idea what Japanese koi go through to grace our ponds and I hope they think its worth it!

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