We went to Hirasawa first. This is a MASSIVE place set up in an old Gymnasium with a huge steel frame to the building. The roof leaked and it was raining so you had to be careful where you stood. The place was stacked with fish. The larger ones, 60 cm plus, were impressive but the majority were the usual stuff you see at dealers anywhere. It was reassuring that our fish were of a similar quality to these too. One of the reasons I was here was to check this out. Quite a few of ours were better than the majority here but on the whole the same quality. I had now seen where we were, now to see where we needed to go and how to get to the next step. I was told that these fish would be kept in here until the spring and not fed until they reached their new home in the UK or elsewhere around the world. In fact the only buyers we saw here were a Chinese couple.
We left in the rain and headed up the hill to Miyatora. He had two new buildings. René needed to photograph a Shiro Utsuri that was sold a few days previously. The facility was interesting – the usual walk over filters
I started to notice the high volumes of water being turned over at these facilities and the amount of oyster shells packed into their filters, obviously to aid in the buffering of their soft water. The quality of the fish here were nice with a few WOW factors swimming around. I was advised this was only a taster. We left as it stopped raining and as the sky got dark.
We carried on, despite the fading light, to Shintaro, who had amazing Gosanke in a very small fish house, then up to Kazuto whose fish were just WOW. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any pictures at these places as it was too dark. We decided to call it a day and after a hot bath and a break we went for dinner at an indoor barbecue!!! Only the Japanese would be this crazy. The place filled with smoke and we sat on tatami (rice mats on the floor) for the first time. I got back to the hotel stinking of smoke.
As predicted I was wide awake at 3.30 am again. I did manage to get to sleep again for a couple of hours, trying to break the jet lag. After breakfast I was dropped off at the Nishikigoi Museum which was very interesting.
They showed videos of the earthquake in 2004, how 200 Koi farms were lost and the idea of “constructive reconstruction”. Not just to rebuild but to rebuild better. Also Japan’s measures with KHV and how they are dealing with it.
From the information boards and videos, I passed a large pond full of Koi donated to the museum by the local breeders. There were some very nice fish cruising around.
I bought a new book on Koi diseases – always interesting and you never know when you need that information either for the farm or to help others. Then I went for a walk around the garden. It was lovely with some great features – a real must for anyone interested in Koi and gardens.
It must have taken nearly an hour to go around and then I was picked up and taken to Aoki. The sun was out and it was starting to feel warm. Aoki specialises in Goshiki and Hikarimoyo. They were, on the whole, the same standard as the ones that we produce, which was pleasing. He had masses of 3 inch to 6 inch (7.5 cm to 15 cm) fish. Up to 30,000 fish in a 20 tonne tank (4000 gallons). These would have been held like this until sold in the spring. Martin had bought a couple of fish from here to take to a major show for a client where they did very well, so everyone was happy (I was also asked not to take pictures of customers buying – Chinese again).
On again – this is going to be a whirlwind. This time it was Kase Koshiji Koi farm. Doitsu Yamatonishiki, Gin Matsuba, Doitsu Showa, Kohaku ,Pearl Gin Rin Ochiba and Doitsu Ochiba. All very nice and reassuringly similar in standard to the majority of the Koi that we have for sale.
Again here huge volumes of small Koi being held for the spring market. (Where are all these Jumbo tosai you hear of? ) We will just see what we find in the rest of the week.
We then went to Seki Ikarashi who had some really cool Ochiba and loads of small Koi ready to settle through the winter until sold in the spring.
We went to a noodle bar for lunch, which was a bit like something out of the movie Bladerunner. The entrance was a glazed stainless steel porch with what looked like a parking ticket machine inside. This, apparently, gave you the option of 2 sizes of noodle bowls with 200 grammes or 300 grammes of noodles. Then the option of pork or more pork, spring onions or more spring onions, seaweed or more seaweed. You paid the money into the machine and took your printed ticket, then into the steaming room – a bar down the middle only about 4 metres long with 8 or 10 fixed stools along the bar filled with people slurping away. Behind the bar was a lady busy in wellies cooking the noodles in a large brazier of boiling water. While the noodles were cooking she was finely slicing wafer thin slices of roast pork – how we didn’t get slices of her hand I don’t know! The cooked noodles were placed in the bowl and an assistant poured on the soup, some soya then added the pork seaweed and spring onion as per your ticket. Wonderful, and far too much to eat.
After lunch we headed off to Sakai Matsunoske. We met the son (Toshiaki) of Toshiuki Sakai who is now running the farm – a real character with a Samurai voice. I showed Toshiaki San our little book on the farm which he studied intently and expressed he was impressed with our progress and was surprised we had done so well breeding our Koi using “sales fish”. He said he would like to help us take a step up as we would make good competition for him so he would have to keep on top of his game. It was refreshing to find someone who thought competition was good.
Toshiaki Sakai then took us to one of his “secret” buildings to show me his Koi that are not for sale but being grown on. First some of his tategoi tosai, then second his best Koi – and also to give me a master class of my own.
First, we were shown his tategoi tosai. Those that will be grown on over winter where he expects them to get to 20 cm by the spring. Then he showed us some of his larger fish like this Shiro Utsuri.
He wanted to show me the thick sumi and white skin. Then on to Sanke to show me skin quality and sumi quality.
I asked him about the hi in the tail and he said that these small demerits are not important, patches like this or other imperfections will or may disappear. He then netted a large Kohaku, 70 cm ish.
With a red nose – what an imposing fish. This is quality stuff. Then, onto a Sanke with a large white band in its midriff.
When I asked about this I was told that “the pattern is not important, if you let the fish grow big it will develop and become imposing. Therefore, the pattern is irrelevant but the qualities have to be there in the first place. The catch is finding the fish with those qualities.” He then caught up a Sanke with two huge plates of red, almost too large, with great blocks of sumi – even on the head. For Sanke this is normally frowned upon but this has to be one of the most imposing fish I have ever seen. The price tag was well over five figures and it is worth the price, it has to be, I met the guy who bought it.
Then a lovely Sanke, “to progress, examine only high quality”
Then a great chunk of Kohaku with yellow on the head. Apparently this will go over time.
Then another Sanke.
“this high quality skin and sumi”.
Then this Kohaku with amazing kiwa and skin.
Then an awesome Gin Rin Showa
Now that was what to look for.
The next Sanke shows weak hi.
Sakai San was busy and needed to get on so we made our leave. He told me before I leave Japan he will show me about Sanke brood fish selection. How brilliant – I couldn’t wait.
As Sakai San left I took the opportunity to check out his nursery ponds, the same size and depth as our no5 nursery pond – excellent.
This was the end of a fabulous day, though tiring. So tiring that I made the worst mistake of my trip in Japan. After my hot bath in the hotel I fell asleep before dinner – nooooo! I will never get round the jet lag like this! When we did get round to eating it was fantastic. Sashimi (raw fish), with a light beer; just what the doctor ordered.
I was awake before dawn again and taken back to Hosokai to choose some parent fish.
I was impressed with his Asagi and Shusui and wanted to introduce their qualities into our own offspring. While there buying, I gave René my camera and he took pictures of this lovely Doitsu Karashigoi (Doitsu Mustard Koi). It was being very friendly!
We then went to Kaneko whose Shiro seem to be a different body shape to those of his I’ve seen in the past in the UK. These are slimmer, they still have great skin but the sumi seemed to be lacking on the majority of those that I saw.
This was probably the fish for sale and not the tategoi. We would’t be able to see those today. He had a good number of nice Kujaku too as those are what he specialises in. Apparently, his place was the other side of the road before the earthquake in 2004.
Kaneko San came out to bid us farewell.
We moved on to Marusho Koi farm – a tiny place with cool Kohakau and a Kujaku.
Martin netted one that would blow your mind – and your wallet. It was already sold and on its way to a major Koi show in Japan!!
Apparently the tanks in the foreground are where he spawns the fish and the blue tank is where he incubates the eggs. Wow!
The concrete tanks were lightly stocked, compared to others, with his tatetgoi tosai Kohaku and Sanke.
They were even crowded in a corner of another small blue tank, hungry little fellas.
Talking of hungry – time for lunch. On the way we just had to take in the views. How cool is that. Peace, quiet and what a view. I believe this is Mushigame. (I’m not that familiar with the area yet) I’m sure if I am wrong, someone will tell me. I also took some close ups of a paddy field to see what a rice plant looked like close up.
After lunch (Japanese pork cutlet with miso soup, pickled radish and salt greens – lovely), we went to see a young man called Kanno.
He produces some of the best Goshiki I have ever seen. This is a heads up, watch out for him in the future – he is only 22.
He showed us his tosai Goshiki
I have never seen such great patterns on Goshiki. Clean Goshiki – red patterns and robbing just visible on the bodies. His Gosanke are good. He apparently has Sakai Matsunoske as his mentor and friend so I am confident he’ll do well. I even persuaded him to swap his cap for a CKF one!
We then went to Dainichi. (Just to remind me what we are aiming for.)
We walked past a couple of his nursery ponds. Again, interesting and food for thought.
Checked out his solar powered auto feeders and then into the first fish house.
In one tank, just on the right, there was a tank of fish all 65 cm plus – about 100 pieces. I was informed they would be around the £50,000 mark each. They were all amazing. Rarely had I seen any fish this good in the UK. Only two pictures came out well of this tank.
One showing René, to give scale, and this shows the overall quality. The picture of the building just gives the scale of the operation.
Fourteen tanks just in this shed then another new building next to it with seventeen tanks in it.
At the entrance to the new building was a small gazebo on lowered legs where they were photographing fish in the blue bowl.
We then headed for the car, which was parked around the corner from the sheds between some large GRP tanks. We came across a group of 8 to 10 year old school kids all gigging and pointing at the sight of westerners. Then some tried their English, which they found very funny. I guess you had to be there – a great Japan moment.
On the way to the hotel we popped into an aquatics shop where they sell small aquaria air pumps, goldfish etc, plus Koi socks, calendars and selection nets and pan nets, so I stocked up on some essentials to take home.
We had a light dinner of more noodles in a western style noodle bar and then to bed. At last I had a reasonable night’s sleep. I woke up at 5 o’clock so only had 3 hours to kill before breakfast this time. I was getting there on the jet lag.
This morning we started the grand tour. See how many breeders we can fit into one day – and this was my last full day.
First stop, Jinbei. Had a great reputation in the past …….. I wasn’t that impressed with what I saw, though he may have sold most of this season’s sales fish and perhaps I had missed the best of them.
I was also told that some of the fish on show may be their brood fish. There were one or two nice pieces. It was good to see their tosai at 4” to 6” (10 cm to 15 cm), the same size as ours back home. (I still haven’t seen any jumbo tosai.) Still, I had one and a half days Koi hunting left.
Next stop Chogoro, famous for his platinum Ogon and just to prove it he caught some up for us and yes, they are very white. Not only does he do platinum Ogon, now he does Kikukuryu.
Here his is standing next to his outside holding tanks at the back of his house. If this was the UK you’d wake up and all your fish will have grown legs and walked off into someone else’s pond.
Next step Yamazaki – actually we just walked across the street. He had three buildings – we were only allowed in one.
Again I was reassured by the quality. I could see fish like these on our own farm, or any number of farms in Japan. I needed to be looking at the next step up – the best of the best.
At Izumiya we found high quality fish as well as some fantastic bulls! Not all the big fish were high quality; you could see they had been at one time, so perhaps they were oyagoi.
As you look at the pictures, notice the uneven water level in the tanks. The tanks shifted in the earth quake in 2004, thankfully they still function. René standing over the tanks shows the scale of the fish. You’ll notice sometimes the surface of the water is flat, and sometimes not, making pictures hard to take. René would turn the air off for me and, of course, turn it back on when I’d finished. I wouldn’t dare do it here. To the side of the tanks at Izumiya are oval bowls, the traditional Japanese bowl called “Kobanoke” (named after the Japanese gold coin the Koban which is now out of circulation).
When leaving Izumiya’s, I took some arty pictures of bees on daisies
Just down the road is an auction centre which still is in operation. Not all Japanese Breeders are happy about this apparently.
All the fish stay in the bags to help with the bio-security. This is just like the auction centre I worked on at Kamihata Fish Industries head quarters in Himeji every other Friday.
The boxes have a number on them, the seller’s number is written on the bags. The boxes float through the building with two levels of buyers looking down on the boxes. The water is only 2 feet deep so people can wade to guide the boxes through the building. The buyer’s number would be written on the bag as it is bought and circled to differentiate it from the seller’s number. The bags of fish would then be laid in rows of the buyer’s number and checked off against the seller’s number as they leave, just to make sure the buyer left with the right fish. Simple.
Next door to the auction centre was Mano Koi farm. This farm produces some really good Shusui. Nice and clean but with amazing Hi. Also there were a number of really nice Kin Matsuba and Hi Utsuri swimming around.
We met some Dutch guys there who were staying in the same Hotel as we were and I have to say I saved one of their lives. As I was leaving the hotel I noticed he had left his cigarettes on the table so I brought them with me just in case we crossed paths. You have never seen a man more grateful as I tapped on his car window holding up his fags!
Our next stop was Shintaro. A large building mostly full of Hi Utsuri of all sizes and Doitsu Showa, all of very good quality. I especially liked this Dotsui Showa with a very striking pattern (top right) and one with a slightly more traditional pattern. What I liked about the first one is all the colours are separated with Shiroji between them.
We came across more Chinese buying.
In the ponds towards the rear of the building were thousand of tosai of all the varieties he specialises in, but much lower densities than other places.
Just to be in complete contrast, the breeder up the hill, Shinoze, was slightly smaller scale!!
Notice the obligatory Koi breeder’s piece of equipment on the floor of the green house even cherished by the smallest breeders.
The upturned Kirin beer crate!
Next on to Torazo, famed for his Kohaku but also I noted a few Sanke and one Showa (Tancho Kohaku are a product of Kohaku spawning) the majority of these fish were 70 cm plus with a few at 50 – 55 cm.
As we were leaving I spotted these bamboo wigwams over the plant pots. In fact they were everywhere as we drove around Niigata. I was told these were to protect the plants from the weight of the snow crushing the plants. Things are so obvious when you know. Even the air con units get wrapped up.
After a McDonalds lunch we travelled up to Sakai Matsunoske fish house in the mountains, where we were invited to look at more special Koi, and even potential parent koi, and to learn what Sakai look for in a potential brood fish. Unfortunately the light was too poor for photographs. I was able to take pictures of some sales fish though.
As we headed back to the hotel we passed a few ponds as the sun went down.
It just goes to show, the Japanese will try to put mud ponds anywhere they can.
For my last evening in Japan we went to a “posh” barbecue restaurant where they had vacuums under the grills so we didn’t get smoked out. After a civilised meal I hit the sack early (about 10.00 pm) and managed to get a reasonable night sleep. I was still awake by 5.00 am though and spent the time packing and getting ready for the trip home after one more mornings farewell.
Breakfast was the usual but accompanied by my new best mate – the Dutch smoker!
As we left the restaurant the rain poured down and there was a distinct chill in the air. I was told it had started to snow in the mountains. It looked like I was leaving just in time.
Just down the road from Ojiya we stopped off at Isa (famous for his Showa). I was surprised that the fish house was down some very steep steps. One had to be fit to haul fish – big fish – up and down here.
Once inside, out of the rain, I was blown away again by the fish. All of them 60 cm to 80 cm – WOW.
As we left I spotted a rather fun motorbike. Simple but it looked cool (in my eyes). I know what Lisa would say!! Unfortunately I had told her of my accidents and close shaves when I was a student and rode a bike for 3 years. Well there is no harm in dreaming.
Next we arrived at Hoshikin. He wasn’t in but, because of who I was with, an old man found a key and let us in to an Aladdin’s cave of Kohaku after Kohaku. It took a while for me to pick my jaw off the floor. I had never seen so many high class Kohaku anywhere – ever. Just scroll through and see if you agree.
How can you beat that for quality?
We couldn’t, but we had time for one more breeder. Around the corner was Kawakami, who specialises in more affordable fish like this tank of lovely Hikarimono.
And even Chagoi that look just like ours.
What was astonishing here was what looked like a pond of Ghost Koi mixed in with Chagoi. I was told these were not Ghost Koi but Mukashi Ogon, meaning “old type” Ogon.
The buildings were stuffed with fish ready to see through the heavy snows in preparation for sale in the spring.
There was another building next door, newer and slightly larger. In here there were mostly Go Sanke – some of them very nice.
As we left it was still pouring down with rain. A quick stop at the little noodle bar and then off to Nagaoka to catch the bullet train back to Tokyo.