Our koi expert Pam Spindola details koi varieties in other issues of WGI Online. Each will open in a new window for easy reference.
Introduction | Sanke | Showa | Utsurimono

Koi Hunting and Achieving a Dream, Pam Spindola Makes
A Journey of the Spirit to Japan
Part 3

Text and images by Pam Spindola
Click images to enlarge

Mudponds of Niigata
It is late Friday morning and we have an appointment to meet the Ikarashis to see the harvesting of a mudpond. Mr. and Mrs. Igarashi and one worker are doing all the work. They started draining the pond earlier in the day. When we arrived the seine was already thrown and being pulled to one side. There was a gentle hush in the serene mountainside, and all that could be heard was the air rustling through the trees and the gentle ripple of the water as the net was being guided to the edge.
Remarkable examples of koi emerged from the muddy waters. Their colors were lustrous whites, reds, and patent leather black. Each koi was hand delivered to a koi tub and then carried to the vat on a small truck. The koi were surprisingly obedient when handled. No doubt this is credit to the breeders who know just how to transport these sometimes squirmy creatures. They must have seined the small pond three times within the hour we were there. I just kept thinking how much physically demanding hard work is required to raise these koi. Watching these breeders work in their shops and at the mudponds gave me a new appreciation of the intense labor required to raise these beautiful fish. In spite of this difficult work they seem to enjoy it and rightly take great pride in the results.  

Harvesting a mudpond  

Although we didn’t physically do the work, we seemed to have worked up an appetite. Kaz brought us to one of the favorite noodle restaurants of the area. The noodle soup with barbecued pork was delicious.

^ Chef - the best
noodle maker!
Lunch - noodle soup -
the best! >>

Nishikigoi auction
After lunch, we stopped at the Nishikigoi auction where the action was fast and furious. Bidders sat in a two tiered enclosed gallery high above a stream with floating containers filled with plastic bags containing koi. At one end of the gallery was the auctioneer and his transcriber calling out the lot number and the bidding price. In addition he manipulated a series of wooden blocks that kept slamming down as the bid increased.
The containers were being pulled to the outside of the building where men in waders organized the sold koi. There were koi everywhere.  


Back to our koi hunt, our next visit was to one of the oldest koi breeding families in the area known as Torazo. It is run by Tsuyoshi Kawakami and his wife, but the business was started by his great grandfather in 1917. Known for the “famous sanke bloodline ‘Torazo’” they are now producing kohaku and showa as well. On his website, he mentions how they are constantly trying to improve the quality and that production percentages are currently 50% kohaku, 30% showa, and only 20% sanke. In the early 20th century, drawings of the early koi were done by the Kawakami family. This was to keep track of the parent koi and the breeding stock. It was noted how difficult it was to draw these koi because they don’t stay still!


Image courtesy of torazokoi.com 



Holding tank with
kohaku and sanke


More kohaku and sanke

It is the end of the day on Friday and several in the group want to revisit some of the breeders. Our last stop for the day is a return visit to the Marudo Koi Farm which continues to be very busy with customers. The koi were very beautiful and some of us make our selections. I decide on a beautiful four step kohaku which will stay in Japan one more season for growth. I have never done this before and hope the koi stays safe from predators. It was already nightfall by the time all the business transactions were completed.

I have purchased three lovely koi during our three days and am so happy with my selections. However, we have one more day to look as some of the other group members are still not done shopping.  

Isa Koi Farm
Saturday morning starts with a return visit to Isa Koi Farm. It is less hectic as most of the koi from the mudponds have been brought in to the concrete ponds. Some members in the group make their selection.


Kaz , Mr. Isa and hobbyists having one last look


The next farm on our list is Hiroi Koi Farm established 85 years ago. Mr. Kuniyasu Hiroi runs the establishment with his wife and two sons. This establishment is also known as “Yozen”, an ancestral name. Although known for excellent showa, they produce many other examples of nishikigoi.  
The staff was very busy bringing in the koi from the mudponds and placing them into the many tanks both inside and outside of the koi hothouse. 

Unloading the koi

Hiroi Koi Farm

Doitsu or
scaleless showa

Hiroi house
We were very impressed with the gin rin goshiki. The conformation of the koi was ideal. The goshiki pattern was so well defined. The diamond scales were so shiny and placed very symmetrically in even rows all the way to the dorsal! These koi are so beautiful!  

Gin rin goshiki from
Hiroi Koi Farm


Gin rin kohaku

Gin rin goshiki

Speaking of beauty, some of us take a little walk to admire the countryside for one last time. Everything is so green. All the houses seem very neat. It is evident that koi raising is the primary focus here as one sees mudponds and concrete ponds along the hilly landscape. Houses often have adjoining glass houses for wintering the koi. Stacked outside the koi houses are the blue tubs, nets, and sometimes boots.

The day is coming to an end but we still have a few more stops. One of the hobbyists wants to see a koi at the Ikarashi Koi Farm. It seems that more showas were pulled from the mudpond.

Ikarashi showa > | Ikarashi and group >>



Then we need to stop at the Marudo Koi Farm for one last transaction.

< Marudo kohaku
<< Measuring the koi at Marudo

As the sun starts to set we stop at a cultural arts center to look at some of the handicrafts of the area. Then it’s off to the hotel to get ready for Mrs. Suda’s birthday party.

< Cultural Arts Center

 Everyone was invited to a small typical Japanese restaurant to celebrate the birthday of Mrs. Suda.

Kaz with Mr. and Mrs. Suda
It was a gala affair with non-stop Japanese delicacies topped off with a delicious whipped cream cake! This was a wonderful way to bring a magical trip to an end.

Last night in Japan - rear left Kaz Takeda, foreground right Mike Swanson

The next day we did some last minute shopping and then boarded the bullet train back to Tokyo and then yet another train to the airport. I was so proud and relieved that we found our way in the crowded stations with a maze of different levels and tracks.

The visit to this magical land with the beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the people was so memorable. One can feel the presence of former generations of koi breeders watching over their legacy and marveling at the beautiful creations of nishikigoi. After seeing first hand all the efforts of time, money and experience that go into the breeding of koi, I have a new found responsibility to nourish, maintain and foster the growth and health of the koi in my pond.

Judy Walker, the author and Barbara Flowers in the Narita Airport >

These lovely koi are Pam's selections from her journey.
Two now live with her in California and the other will arrive in the fall.

Gin rin kohaku


Budo goromo

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