Things I Like About Japan #5: Koi

Creative Commons License Koi, Naiku, Ise, Japan by kristi-san

I love fish. When I was growing up, my father had both freshwater and saltwater aquariums. I used to enjoy reading books about different species of fish: where they were from, what they liked to eat, whether they were live bearers or egg layers, what kind of temperature/pH they liked their water… that sort of thing. Aquariums can be quite complex—you can’t just arbitrarily start putting random fish and plants together in a tank and expect things to go well.

Anyway, around the time I was in junior high school, my father started keeping koi. What are koi exactly? Well, they’re a type of decorative domesticated carp that you usually see in outdoor gardens. They were originally bred for color variations in China, but the custom traveled to Japan and seems to have really developed there in the 1800s and 1900s. They come in all kinds of beautiful colors, as this handy chart illustrates:

Wikipedia also has a fairly detailed list of other color varieties. Anyway, I think they’re very pretty, and it’s quite relaxing sit outside on a nice day and watch them swimming in a pond. You see koi fairly often in the U.S., but here in Japan they seem to be everywhere. And they can get absolutely *huge* when they have the space (fish tend to only grow to sizes relative to their tank or environment). It’s usually difficult to get a sense of this through pictures, but I had a couple of lovely assistants help me out the other day on my walk through Rikugien:

Creative Commons License Koi vs. Duck Part 1 by kristi-san

Creative Commons License Koi vs. Duck Part 2 by kristi-san

See what I mean? This particular orange fish was about average for the ones I saw that day. There were definitely bigger ones in the lake—if you look closely at the first picture, you can see an even bigger black koi swimming in the background.

Anyway, whenever I’m out sightseeing, I always look forward to that bit of the park or garden or castle or shrine or temple where I will inevitably come across a body of water filled with koi. It’s something you can always rely on here in Japan. And I like it.

There are a couple more shots from my random travels around Japan below—look at the size of some of the black koi in the first picture!

Creative Commons License Koi, Zeniarai Benten Shrine, Kamakura, Japan by kristi-san

Creative Commons License Koi, Hase-dera, Kamakura, Japan by kristi-san