The history of koi is a fascinating journey that takes us back to the origins of these colorful ornamental fish. Central Asia is the original home of the carp or koi fish. It is said that they spread eastward to China and Japan and westward into Europe by way of Greece and Rome. In China around 500 BC, Toshuko alias Hanrei wrote a book discussing the breeding and culture of carp. This book is said to be the oldest of its kind in the world.
Early Koi History & Culture
In approximately 1227 AD, carp breeding was done in Austria and later spread to Germany, France and Denmark. Additionally, carp were brought from France to America in 1831. However, it was during 1876-87 that a large number of carp were brought to America from Germany.
In Japan, the introduction of carp dates back to ancient times. Emperor Keiko is credited for releasing carp into his pond for pleasure in the 4th year of his reign (74 AD) . Because of this long history, the Japanese people gained a deep appreciation for the these fish. They are known for their vivid colors, graceful body, and elegant swimming style. The fish whose bodies were speckled in red or light blue, were preferred and were sold to decorate Japanese garden ponds.
History of Koi Ponds
Formerly, the pond in a Japanese garden was designed to imitate nature. The edges of most ponds were gourd-shaped and were called “shinki-no-ike” (gourd shaped ponds). Ancient ponds were built for the sole purpose of delighting the eye. Similarly, a koi pond is now often planned for the garden, making family life more enjoyable.
In the days of Tammei (1781-88), a considerable number of carp were being bred. However, the long drought during this period dried up nearly all reservoir ponds for irrigation. To prevent their extinction, some carp were transferred to Senryu Pon in Shiotani, Higashiya Village (now Ojiya City).
From Carp to Koi
Over the centuries, Japanese breeders selectively bred carp for their colors and body shapes. This lead to the creation of the ornamental koi we admire today. For example, different color patterns and varieties, such as Kohaku and Asagi, emerged during various historical eras.
In the Bunka and Bunseii eras, cross breeding between red and white carp was successfully attempted. This cross breding created “Kohaku” a white carp with red spots on the belly, and “Hooaka” a white carp with red spots. Later, some carp were produced with partially red head-fronts (“sukin-Kaburi”) and red lips (“kuchi-beni”). Additionally, others varities came along with backs dotted with red called “Sarasa”. In the early Meiji era, the carp varieties of “Asagi” (light blue) and “Ki-Utsuri” (yellow-tinted) were created. Some ranging in price up to an expensive 50 yen each!
Koi in America
With the coming of air transportation after World War II, Japanese and European breeders were able to ship their fancy Koi varieties to the United stated, Hawaii, Canada, and Brazil. No longer is the Niigata region of Japan the only place where fancy carp are bred. As a result, koi keeping has become a widespread hobby enjoyed by people everywhere.
Today, the history of koi reflects the evolution of these magnificent fish from their humble origins in Central Asia to their status as beloved ornamental fish worldwide. With their stunning array of colors and patterns, koi continue to symbolize beauty and grace, making them a popular choice for ornamental ponds and a cherished part of many cultures. Explore the captivating journey of these exquisite fish from their origins to their place in the hearts of enthusiasts across the globe.