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The History of Koi

21st Nov 2019

Like carp, koi originated in China, and it is widely believed that the first use of the word comes from around 553BC when Confucius had a baby son. His friend King Shoko gifted them in celebration a mature beautiful multi coloured carp. This was regarded as a symbol of good luck by Confucius so he decided to name his son ‘li’ which is the Chinese pronunciation of the word Koi.

Legend of the Dragon Gateway

According to Chinese legend Koi fish can swim freely in the sea even in stormy conditions, because of this it was thought koi were powerful and able to transform into dragons! This is very closely linked to the legend of the dragon gateway story, where thousands of koi fish swim upstream against a strong current. At the end of their swim these koi reach a huge waterfall which is 10,000 feet tall. Most of the koi gave up at this point, however a brave few did not! These brave koi did eventually manage to jump this huge waterfall and greet the Chinese Gods who in turn gave them the greatest honour and turned them into Dragon Koi.

Modern Day Koi Keeping

So why do we tend to associate koi with Japan? Well this is because the Japanese actually started to selectively breed koi for their colour, this was in the 1800’s (around 1820 to be more precise) in a town called Ojiya. The rest of Japan were not aware of this and it wasn’t until 1914 in Tokyo that these Koi were exhibited at an annual exhibition, and a greater awareness began to grow. These fish were seen as an ideal gift for the then current Emperor of Japan, Hirohito. The presentation captured the hearts of the world and koi soon reached a height of popularity that continues to this day.

It was from this very small group of carp that the whole hobby and interest has grown - well apart from the Ogon which is a relatively new variety - we will get into the 13 classes and varieties another day!

Japan is still the number one producer of top quality koi in the world, koi have even become a symbol of national identity in Japan and are considered to bring good luck, fortune and prosperity.