Story No: Priceless Japanese fish make a splash
Kazo, Japan: Hand-crafted for its color and beauty, Koi carp have become an iconic symbol of Japan that can sell for hundreds of dollars and even participate in fishery beauty pageants.
While visiting US President Donald Trump to dump past a box of feed in a palace pond in Tokyo, the nation’s CoA carp was brought to the world’s attention.
But the fish has been popular for decades in Japan, where top breeders take their most prized specimens (known as “nishikoigi”) as highly competitive “beauty parades”.
In such a competition in Tokyo, sharp suits, notebooks in hand, around the judges, a foot around the tanks stand on the side of the road, where the prized ones disperse their belongings.
They come in all colors of the rainbow: pearl white, bright red, cloudy-gray, dark blue, gleaming golden yellow.
But it is the curvature of the fish that accounts for 60 percent of the final score, explained contest organizer Isamu Hatori, who runs Japan’s main association for breeders of koi carp.
Color and contrast make up another 30 percent, he told AFP.
And the last 10 percent? “Hinkaku” – a concept that is difficult to define and even harder to judge, is best translated as the “presence” or “aura” of a fish.
– Most important matters –
“EitherHinkaku´. It is either in the gene at birth, or it is not,” says Mikinori Kurikara, a Koi breeder in Saitama, north of Tokyo, who says that when he is eight or eight years old he can fish it Can keep Nine months old.
“Put it like this, like taking care of your children every day. You take care of your children and want them to be healthy. In the same way, you take care of these fish, appreciate them, and watch them , “Told AFP.
At their farm, thousands of tiny “nishikoigi” (colored carp) carefully dart around a deep basin of pure water, carefully divided by age and color.
A less glorious fate awaits other coys who have not been lucky enough to catch the breeder’s eye: they are sold as feeds for tropical fish.
“It’s a really delicate job, really difficult. Everything matters: land, water quality, food,” explained the 48-year-old, who took over the farm from his father and is training his son , Half his age, in some subtle arts of reproduction.
“We have many secrets,” he mischievously adds. “But even if we let them slip, it won’t work. You have to be able to feel it.”
– Social ladder –
These days, any self-respecting traditional Japanese garden has colorful koi lots covering its ponds, but this is a relatively recent tradition.
About 200 years ago, villagers in the mountainous region around Niigata (northwest of Japan) began practicing genetic engineering without knowing what they were doing.
For the first time, they began crossing rare colored carp not for food but for pure aesthetic value.
The madness for Nishikoigi gradually dominated the whole of Japan and then spread to other parts of Asia.
They are especially popular in China, where swimming swimming against the tide symbolizes the idea of perseverance leading to wealth – rather like those climbing the social ladder, said Professor Yutaka Suga at the Institute for Advanced Studies at the University of Tokyo.
Today, coy is big business and Japanese exports are booming – 90 percent of domestic production is sold in exports and at auction.
According to Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, in 2016, Japan exported a record 295 tonnes, with a turnover of 3.5 billion yen ($ 31 million), an increase of nearly 50 percent over 2007.
As for individual carp, “prices have gone crazy,” said Hattori, owner of the carp association.
“Today, a two-year-old carp can sell for 30 million yen each ($ 265,000), while 10 years ago, two million yen was already a very good price,” he told AFP.
Like racehorse owners, many foreign owners leave their prized possessions in their home Japanese farms to compete for the most prestigious fishermen, which are open only to domestic rearers.
One such owner, Chinese Koi collector Yuan Xiangong, went to Tokyo to cheer on some of his carp.
“It’s not a way to make money. It’s a way to spend it for fun,” Shanghai’s pharmaceutical boss said with a laugh.
He said that the ownership of Koi is more than a rude display of wealth.
“When you see these beautiful fish circling in your pond, you forget the stresses of daily life and you get mental peace.”
And you can’t put a price on it.