Where Do Koi Come From? The History of Koi

Central Asia is the original home of the carp. It is said that they spread eastward to China and Japan and westward into Europe by the way of Greece and Rome. In China about 500 BC, Toshuko alias Hanrei wrote a book on the fish culture in which he discussed the breeding and culture of carp. This book is said to be the oldest of its kind in the world.

It is generally maintained that in approximately 1227 AD, carp breeding was done in Austria and later spread to Germany and France in about 1358 A.D and to Denmark in about 1600 AD. Carp were brought from France to America in 1831 and to California in 1872. It was during 1876-87 that a large number of carp were brought to America from Germany.

We are unable to positively ascertain when carp were first introduced into Japan, but a pond was built in Karachi Province in October of the 62nd year of the reign d Emperor Suilin (31 BC). When Emperor Keiko visited visited Minot Province in February of the 4th year of his reign (74 AD) he amused himself by releasing carp into a pond situated at Kukuri-No-Miya (now Kani Subprefecture, Gifu Prefecture). More and more people appreciated not only their colors but also their graceful body confirmations and elegant swimming style. Carp, whose bodies were speckled, such as red or light blue, were preferred and were sold to decorate garden ponds.

Formerly, the pond in a Japanese garden was designed to imitate nature. The edges of most ponds were gourd-shaped as in the Chinese character “shin” (mind) and were called “shinki-no-ike (gourd shaped ponds).

Ancient ponds were built for the sole purpose of delighting the eye and because modern dwellings are smaller, a Koi pond is often planned for the garden, making family life more enjoyable. Unfortunately, no accurate records are available to the origin of the carp breeding. It is said that, in the days of Tammei (1781-88), a considerable number of carp were being bred. However, the long drought throughout the county 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).

These carp were ordinary black carp, which through mutation changed color, becoming red, light yellow or tortoise shell tinted. It is believed that these variegated carp were progenitors of the present fancy carp, or Koi.

In the Bunka (1830-43) and Bunseii (1919-29 eras, cross breeding between red and white carp was successfully attempted creating “Kohaku” a white carp with red spots on the belly, and “Hooaka” white carp with red spots on the operculum. Later, in the Tempo era (1830-43), carp were produced, some with partially red head-fronts (“sukin-Kaburi”) some whose lips were red (“ kuchi-beni”0 and others whose backs were dotted with red (“ Sarasa”). In the early part of the Meiji era (1874-75), superb carp belonging to the varieties of “Sarasa”, “Asagi” (light blue), and “Ki-Utsuri” (yellow-tinted) were created, some ranging in price up to an expensive 50 yen!

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. Koi are available throughout the world, and now Koi keeping has become a widespread hobby.

by Nishiki Koi Club