Koi History ~ Myths & Mysteries

Ray Jordan ©2006

Carp in Eastern Cultures

  • Carp is an Auspicious Animal believed to possess special attributes - Strength, Health, Persistence, Luck, Wealth, & Destiny
  • There is an important myth of a carp leaping up a waterfall and swimming tirelessly upstream to reach the headwater. When it succeeded, it was rewarded by transformation into a mighty dragon. In China, images or statues of carp are a traditional gift to a student beginning school.

  • In Japan, auspicious colors are red, white, black, blue, yellow, & brown.

  • The color Red (aka) is an expression of happy or bright feelings. Red evokes images of fortunate or happy occasions, symbolized by red and white as seen on kohaku.

  • “ Nishikigoi begins and ends with Kohaku.”

  • Japanese prefer the majority of koi in a pond should be Kohaku to convey bright, happy feelings.

Carp sometimes have natural mutations of colors including spots or bellies that are red, brown, grey, light blue/grey, light yellow, and tortoiseshell. Carp farmers all over the world would have seen these same mutations but only in the Niigata area of Japan were carp developed and refined successfully by selective breeding to eventually become what we know today as living jewels (koi).


Why Were Koi Created Only in Niigata, Japan?

  • Very isolated in winter
  • 20+ feet of snow accumulation
  • Lack of fresh food in winter
  • Very Artistic/Creative/Competitive People
  • Profit – Colored Carp were valuable
  • Competitions (Annual Formal Koi Shows in Niigata area since 1912)
  • Artistic – Create something new, exciting, & unique.

It is believed carp first came to Japan by way of China about 400 - 600 years ago. Likely the remoteness of the mountainous Niigata area and especially in their harsh winters, with up to 20 ft of accumulated snow, inspired these home-bound villagers to find something beautiful to occupy their minds. Winters were so harsh that some carp had to be brought into temporary ponds inside their small homes to survive.


It is incredible to think that some bored rice/carp farmer, gazing at some of his pet magoi with a few red or gold spots, started thinking "I can breed Spot and Speckles and create a new type of colorful carp and then sell them for lots of Yen."

Imagine what he would think if he could return today and see how popular, beautiful and expensive some of the descendents of his pet fish experiment had become.


previous || next

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

all rights reserved to the author