Koi Homework

There are many differences between Japan and the UK not only in our languages but also our cultures and considerable differences in the way we view and buy our Koi. Buying Koi is obviously a simple process, you hand over your money and take home the goods, but it is how you make this decision where the differences really occur.

Over the last three or four years there has been a definite upsurge in the number of questions being asked when buying Koi. This is most definitely not a bad thing and is all part of the learning process, as long as the questions are answered correctly. The UK Koi industry may have been around for a number of years but in comparison to Japan it is still in its infancy. The whole business of Koi is expanding, but as with learning anything, you sometimes have to take one step forward and two steps back.

The most recent step back that seems to be occurring in the UK is the obsession with the breeders name. This is not new and has been going on for a number of years now. Don’t get me wrong some breeders obviously breed better Koi than others, or more of them, or both. But the issue with the breeders name is only relevant once you have assessed what your goals with the purchase are.

By this I mean for instance if you have a 3,000 gallon Koi pond and you want to buy a 2 year old Sanke and your budget is £300 the breeders name is pretty much irrelevant. That name will have no bearing on the quality of the Koi you are about to buy. If however you are fortunate enough to have a 15,000 gallon plus pond and an unlimited budget then the breeders name is more important.

The reason for this is quite simple it doesn’t matter who bred the fish, what its potential size it may be, how big the breeders farm, how big the parent stocks are,etc,etc. If you put a £300 two year old koi in a 3,000 gallon pond it is never going to become something its not. The Champion Koi the breeder is famous for, or any potential All Japan Koi Show winners are not going to be for sale in the UK for a few hundred pounds.

Don’t get me wrong there are breeders that produce higher quality Koi than others of which many involve bloodline bred Koi such as Matsonosuke and Dianichi etc. But all these names are only relevant once you get into a higher price bracket. The real questions you should be asking when buying a Koi are very simple. How good is this Koi I am looking at?

This may sound like an obvious question to ask but with every purchase the most important thing is the fish in front of you. Has it good body shape?, is it female ? (if it’s old enough), is the skin quality good? and so on. No single breeder casts any magic spells over his Koi! For every ten good Koi, and by this I mean really high class Koi, there are hundreds of thousands that didn’t even get close. The breeding of high quality Koi is a pure numbers game.

Ichiban Shiro UtsuriAn excellent example of this is the Shiro Utsuri pictured, it is a Koi of the highest quality and is almost dare I say, perfect. This Koi attracted a lot of attention with many hobbyists admiring its quality, however many made the same mistake with this Koi. About ninety percent of the hobbyists who enquired about it, made the assumption that it was from Omosako. Based on the principle that it’s a Shiro Utsuri and its one of the best, therefore the biggest and best Shiro Utsuri breeder is Omosako, so this must be one of his.
This was far from the truth; the Koi was from a small breeder in Niigata that produces only the occasional real high class Koi. He doesn’t even breed Shiro Utsuri every year!
I am not even going to name the breeder, as it is irrelevant, you could visit him every year for the next twenty years and not even see one Koi close to its quality. The owner knows where the Koi was bred, but merely as a piece of background information.

The more Koi a farm breeds the more high quality Koi it produces, but the flipside to this is that low grade Koi are also produced in larger numbers. Proof of this is easily seen at Sakai in Isawa, the waterways around the farm are teeming with discarded low grade cast offs, and this is the farm that has produced countless champions and is the home of the Matsonosuke bloodline.

If a large Koi Farm breeds thousands of koi and has many fish sell, they will be priced based on their quality. The owner will not sell a £2000 high grade Koi for £300 just because he has bred several hundred, he will sell you a Koi that he feels is worth £300 and that will be the same at whatever breeder you decide to buy at.

If you have gone to the efforts both physically and financially to build a large Koi farm you haven’t spent all that money to give your Koi away, you will sell them for what they are worth, this is a simple business principle and lets face the Japanese are very good businessmen. As an example of this you have only have to look at two contrasting Koi farms.

Ogawa Koi Farm is probably one of the most famous farms in Japan having bred All Japan Grand Champion Koi, with Sunichi Ogawa being one of the true masters. The Koi from this farm are famous for their white skin and interesting patterns, but it is far from being a large farm. Infact it only has two indoor fish houses! One for the Tosai and one for the Grand Champions, all the others are outside ponds.

Ogawa concentrate on quality and not quantity, this is done by having a very high cull rate and by using their vast knowledge to only grow Koi of true high class potential. One thing that Ogawa Koi farm has very few of, is cheap Koi even their lowest priced Koi are of fantastic quality.

Compare this to Hirasawa Koi farm in Niigata, probably the largest farm in the area, producing many thousands of Koi. Hirasawa has produced many high quality Koi also but, with the many mud ponds they have, they grow on Koi of all different grades. They have ponds jammed with Koi at harvest time and it takes time to find the better ones.
Due to the fact they are not so harsh at the culling stages their lowest priced Nisai at harvest can be very cheap, a fifth of the cost when compared to Ogawas' cheapest.

If you went to each farm and asked them to show you some Koi worth £300, they would show you Koi of a very similar quality, after all these men are seasoned Koi professionals. They may have differing approaches to how they run their farms, but to think they would give their products away just because they’ve got lots of them is crazy.

Of course everyone has their favourite Koi varieties and wants to know as much about the Koi that will be gracing their ponds as possible. The thing to remember is that the breeder who bred this Koi may have bred many grand champion and jumbo proportioned Koi with five figure price tags. But there is no way the fish you are about to purchase (unless you intend to re-mortgage) is ever going to get close to the prize winning Koi that the Breeder is famous for.

However this does not mean you need to give up keeping Koi because you don’t have £10000 to spend on a fish. What it means is that, as stated at the beginning, you must look at the Koi you are buying and weigh up everything it has to offer.

To prove a point, the Showa pictured was runner up in the ZNA All Japan Koi Show in 2002, as a 45cm Nisai (two year old) and because of its success commanded a four figure price tag, but was actually purchased as a Tosai (one year old) for just 12000 Yen (£60).

It can be done, but it takes knowledge and experience and this cannot be gained overnight. No breeders name attached to a Koi offers a shortcut to success, it must be learnt. To do this you must learn by personal experience, real Koi appreciation has to be seen to be understood. It cannot be done from books, magazines or the internet. You need, as with learning anything, the help of a professional. Find someone who knows about Koi in Japan from first hand experience and quite simply ask them as much as you possibly can, after all this is exactly what I did during my first trips to Japan, and still do!

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