Read about Pam Spindola

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Introduction & Kohaku | Sanke | Showa | Utsurimono

Koi Hunting and Achieving a Dream,
Pam Spindola Makes

A Journey of the Spirit
to Japan

Text and images by Pam Spindola
Click images to enlarge


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 country’s 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 koi.

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.

New Otani Hotel Garden -


Tancho kohaku

Bamboo forest

Lantern with rain chain

On day one of our trip, after talking with the concierge, the three of us negotiated the subway and walked to Ueno Park, spending a few hours viewing a complex of tourist attractions. The Shinobazo Pond, filled with lotus plants, also provides a sanctuary for birds. Small boats are available for rent to enjoy a tranquil respite in this fast-paced city. Nearby is a zoo, several temples and shrines as well as The National Museum. This museum, Japan’s largest and a must see, houses antiques including swords, kimonos, etchings, scrolls, screens, and suits of armor from the many periods of Japanese culture.  

Shinobazo Pond

Pausing for lunch, we are exhausted but continue our walking tour to the Asakusa Shrine. We walk through the famous Kaminarimon Gate with its unmistakable bright red lanterns and are immediately in a crowd of people shopping along the Nakamise Dori, a pathway lined on both sides with large and small shops selling every kind of Japanese souvenir or gift item. Also, many confectionary treats and food items are tempting all who walk by. It was Sunday and entire families were making their way to Sensoji Temple and the shrine. Although we had more places to visit, night suddenly came upon us and we made our way back to the hotel for the evening. 

Pam at Kaminarimon Gate

Nakamise Dori

Koi theme filled pastries

Cookies and crackers

Tokyo at night

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