For many years, I have wanted to visit the heart and soul
of the koi hobby, Niigata, Japan, the birthplace of nishikigoi
or fancy carp. The area, only a few hours by bullet train from
Tokyo, is many more years removed from the hustle bustle fast
paced life of 21st century Tokyo. The main city, Ojiya City,
is an agricultural area most famous for its rice production.
Geographically the area, consisting of the famous 20 villages,
is surrounded on three sides by mountains and borders the countrys
longest river, Shinano, which meanders through and empties into
the Sea of Japan at Niigata City on the coast. The area is also
known as Yamakoshi-ken.
Just as many golfers want to visit Scotland to be where the
popular game began, anthropologists want to visit Papua, New
Guinea, to visit cultures of the Stone Age, people of all religions
want to visit Jerusalem, I wanted to see the area of Yamakoshi,
the twenty villages, where the koi are bred, and talk to the
current generation of Japanese breeders who mix science, art,
and unknown magic to create these wonderful colorful carp called
Although some people attempt to make this trip without a guide,
I could not imagine driving on the reverse side of the highway
through winding mountainous one lane roads which have no signs.
Adding to that, I do not speak or read Japanese. Most hobbyists
on a koi hunt will go with a knowledgeable guide who has a facility
with the language and a working relationship with the breeders.
There are several people in the United States who offer such
services and who advertise in hobbyist magazines and on the web.
We went with Kaz Takeda who has been leading groups for many
years. My late husband and I attended his tour to the All-Japan
Show of January 1988 and the Ryunkai Show and a koi buying tour
in Niigata in November of 1994. My husband, also, had gone on
several trips to Japan with Kaz. Our families have been friends
for a long time beginning when Kaz was a dealer in Fresno, California,
and later, in Orange County, California.
My journey began in Tokyo for a two-day sightseeing whirlwind
tour shared with two friends and koi hobbyists, Judy Walker from
Newport Beach, California, and Barbara Flowers from Denver, Colorado.
After landing at the sprawling Narita Airport and an hour bus
ride to Tokyo, we checked into the luxurious New Otani Hotel,
featuring a beautiful 400 year old garden which once belonged
to a feudal lord. It encompasses 10 acres (4 hectares) of ponds,
bamboo groves, bridges, and several unusual lanterns.