Koi College - Glossary of Terms

Hanako The Oldest Living Koi


Well, we can see carp everywhere, but this red carp of ours, "Hanako", is as old as 215 years. You will be surprised to know how precious an existence she is. According to Mr. Masayuki Amano, who is a noted enthusiast about carp and was working at the Fisheries Experimental Station in the carp producing Niigata Prefecture, the carp is one of the most long-lived of all kinds of fish. He says he has seen some carp more than 100 years old, but none so old as exceeding 200 years, and one so old as 215 years, is precious beyond all measure, from the scientific point of view. I, for one, am wondering at the longetivity this carp of ours is enjoying.

This "Hanako" is still in perfect condition and swimming about majestically in a quiet ravine decending Mt. Ontake in a short distance. She weighs 7.5 kilograms and is 70 centimeters in length. She and I are dearest friends. When I call her saying "Hanako! Hanako!" from the brink of the pond, she unhesitatingly comes swimming to my feet. If I lightly pat her on the head, she looks quite delighted. Sometimes I go so far as to take her out of the water and embrace her. At one time a person watching asked me whether I was performing a trick with the carp. Although a fish, she seems to feel that she is dearly loved, and it appears that there is some communication of feeling between us. At present my greatest pleasure is to go to my native place two or three times a month and keep company with "Hanako".

I am often asked how it is that I can tell the age of a fish. As a tree trunk has its annual rings, so a fish has its annual rings on its scales, and we only have to count them to know the age of a fish. As a matter of course, we ourselves cannot do it. It requires the aid of a specialist and the use of a light microscope. Now, what was it that made me think of ascertaining the carp's age? My grandmother on maternal side, who left this world at the advanced age of 93 some eight years ago, is said to have been told by her mother-in-law, "When I was married into this family, my mother in-law said to me, "That carp has been handed down to us from olden times; you must take good care of it"." When I was told this story, I became very curious to know how long the carp had lived. I found out Hanako's age by the before mentioned method, but you may easily imagine how greatly I was grieved when I was forced to take a scale off her beautiful body. I caught her in a net very cautiously, and repeatedly said. "Excuse me!" I took off two scales from different parts of her body by using a strong tweeser. The scales were examined by Prof. Masayoshi Hiro, D.Sc., Laboratory of Domestic Science, Nagoya Women's College. It took two months for him to acquire a satisfactory result. By using the light microscope, he photographed every part of the scales. It seems he took a great deal of trouble. When it was certain beyond doubt that the carp was 215 years old, the two of us exchanged a look of delightful surprise.

Then I had the Professor examine the remaining five carp in the same pond, three white and two black ones. The examination took one year, and it was found out as the results that three were respectively 168, 153 and 149 years old, and the remaining two were both 139 years old. Those results led us to be convinced that not only are the carp rare ones but they are a very precious existence from the scientific point of view as well. We must consider, then, in what surroundings and under what conditions these long-lived carp are placed. The pond is located far deep among the mountains of Mino Province. The locality is called Oppara, Higashi-Shirakawa Village, Kamo County, and is about the same distance from Gero Hot Springs on the Takayama Line as from Nakatsugawa City on the Central Line, both lines belonging to the National Railways. Nearby there are rustic hot springs called Oppara-onsen. Facing south toward the Pacific on the top of Mt. Ontake, you will look down upon the locality at the foot of the mountain. Through the locality runs the Shirakawa, a tributary of the River Hida which again is the upper reaches of the River Kiso. A stream of limpid water never ceases to flow all the year round. It is this water that flows into the pond which "Hanako" lives and which was carefully constructed with stones in former days. Besides that, pure water trickled from the foot of the mountain streams close by into the pond, making the favorable conditions still more favorable. The pond cannot be called large, only being about five meters square.

For your information, I shall attach below the dates of birth and chronicles of the six carp that live in the pond of my native house in Gifu (The age is calculted from 1968).

Some of the oldest Koi -

1 - Hanako (scarlet) - 217 years old; born in 1st year of Horeki (A.D. 1751); in the preceding year there arose an internal feud in the Kaga Clan; and the birth was 25 years before the Declaration of Independence of America.
2 - Aoi (white with red spots on belly) - 170 years old; born in 10th year of Kansei (A.D. 1798); in the same year Norinaga Motoori published "Kojiki-dan",Juzo Kondo discovered Island of Etoroff, and Napoleon went on his Egyptian campaign.
3 - Chikara (bluish black) - 155 years old; born in 10th year of Bunka (A.D. 1813); in the same year Kumpei Gamo died, Stevenson invented the steam engine, and in the following year Bakin takizawa published "Nanso Satomi Hakken-den".
4 - Satoru (white with black spots on back) - 151 years old; born in 14th year of Bunka (A.D. 1917); in the same year an English ship visited the port of Uraga. Death of Gempaku Sugita.
5 - Santa (black with an indented scar on the face) - 141 years old; born in the 10th year of Bunsei (A.D. 1827); in the same year Sanyo Rai published "Nihon Gaishi". Great Fire of Yedo in the following year.
Yuki (white) - 141 years old; born in the same year as "Santa".

As documented previously, Hanako was the oldest carp in the Japanese Islands. The name has been well known by the foreign fanciers and specialists as well as among the Japanese. It is regrettable to announce that Hanako died on July 17, 1977 (Showa 52), ending her life at age 226 years.

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