The History of Nishikigoi
Neil J. Dawson
Since the evolution of Koi is though to date Back more than a thousand years, some of the earlier statements that follow in this section are not very well documented or not at all. Because the facts are "sketchy", there are many theories and speculations that exist regards the history of Koi. The following are some of the more popular theories that exist. The history and existance of Carp and Koi is certainly evident in some of the oldest crafts that exist today which remain or originated in Asia and the Far East, in the form of paintings, utensils, pottery sculptures and carvings etc.
Where did the name "Nishikigoi" originate?
Nishikigoi, commonly referred to as "Koi" are the national fish of Japan, therefore the fish's name is derived from the Japanese language. "Nishiki" is the Japanese word used to describe a highly coloured cloth. "Goior Koi" is the Japanese name for carp. Together, therefore "Nishikigoi" is derived from coloured carp. However, as koi keeping has become more popular throughout the world, people now refer to these species as "Koi".
Where did these fish originate?
Contrary to belief, Koi are not indigenous to Japan. They were believed to originate from eastern Asia, in the Black, Caspian, Aral Seas and China. The earliest written records of Koi were found in China. Koi were believed to be introduced to Japan with the invading Chinese and a first account of them being kept by an emperor in Japan, apparently dates Back to AD 200.
Are Koi related to the Common Carp or Goldfish?
Iran is thought to be the ancestral home of the Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio), from which Koi were first developed. This wild carp, which is an excellent food, was carried to Japan, China and western Europe by traders about a thousand years ago.
Koi differ from Goldfish (Carassius auratus) in their origins. Goldfish share a common ancestry with the Crucian Carp (Carassius carassius) and were developed in China, where carp have been bred for as long as 2000 years. they do not grow as large as Koi and the two species can be clearly distinguished by the fact that Koi have two pairs of barbels on the upper lip, while Goldfish have none.
When and where were Koi first bred?
Koi were first bred in Japan in the 1820s, initially in the town of Ojiya in the Niigata prefecture on the north eastern coast of mainland Japan. This area is situated high in the mountains, where snow can fall up to several metres in depth, cutting of access to the area in the winter months. Therefore, carp were used for food and were stored for eating during the winter. Rice farmers there introduced carp into their irrigation ponds to supplement their diet of rice. This devotion to breeding carp led to the Niigata region becoming established as the centre of the growing Koi industry.
How did the dark brown carp transform into highly coloured Koi varieties?
Colour mutations in carp were first noticed in the early 1800s. These mainly involved red, white and light yellow Koi (the latter developing into the first single - coloured Kawarimono) and later the tortoiseshell - patterned Koi. These were all mutations from the black Common Carp, known as Magoi. By the middle of the 1800s, cross-breeding of red and white carp produced what could be described as the first Kohaku. Early Koi varieties such as Asagi, Higoi and Bekko, were cross-bred until later the same century, fixing many of the varieties we know today. Certain varieties slowly reached high standards over several generations and in this way lineages became established.
Around the same period, in central Europe a Carp mutation arose, the Carp only having a few large glossy scales along the dorsal line - the "mirror carp", or having no scales at all - the "leather carp". These fish which became known as "doitsu" from their mid european origins, were originally bred for food. Some of these "doitsu" carp were introduced to Japan in the early 1900s, which later led to the Shusui variety (doitsu Asagi).
Until the beginning of the 20th century, Koi breeding was restricted to the Niigati region. Around this period Koi started to spread to other areas of Japan, where the industry, in general matured to what it is today. With the development of air travel in the mid 1900s, Koi started to migrate to other countries, such as America, Canada and the United Kingdom. Today, Koi can be hand picked in Japanese farms and transported anywhere in the world. As populations of high quality Koi increase throughout the world, It will be a matter of time before new varieties are produced in countries outside Japan.