Monday, July 19, 2010

Koi Fish History

A Brief Journey in Time
The history of Koi fish is as mysterious as Koi are beautiful. Popular conviction would have us believe that Koi are indigenous to Japan. In fact, they are even mistakenly called "Japanese Goldfish." But Koi history goes back to South China as far as 20 million years ago.

Just for the Record
"What is the difference between goldfish and Koi?" Goldfish and Koi are both selections of carp, but from two different families. Goldfish are mutations from Crucian Carp (Carassius carassius) and Koi are from common carp (Cyprinus carpio).

So if they did not originally come from Japan, where does Koi fish history begin? The history of Koi fish is believed to originate from eastern Asia, in the Black, Caspian, Aral Seas and China. Carp fossils have been discovered in South China dating the history of Koi fish as far back as 20 million years ago.

The earliest written history of Koi fish, or Nishikigoi, (Japanese for "brocaded" carp) were first described in a Chinese book written during the Western Chin Dynasty, around 265-316 A.D. At that point in Koi fish history they were described as white, red, black and blue.

According to Chinese Koi history, Confucius' son, born in 533 B.C., was presented a fish by King Shoko of Ro. The fish were used as the main subject in Chinese artwork and carvings and some Chinese rulers kept carp in captivity for their viewing pleasure.

While there may have been natural mutations of carp which featured patches of color on them in China, the Japanese are generally recognized in Koi history as the creators of Nishikigoi (Living Jewels).

According to "Manual to Nishikigoi," a Koi history book by Dr. Takeo Kuroki, the word "Koi" was first used about 2,500 years ago in China. Koi are believed to have been introduced to Japan with the invading Chinese and according to Koi fish history the first account of them being kept by an emperor in Japan dates back to AD 200.

The Japanese were the first in Koi fish history to take the naturally occurring mutations and develop them further. Japanese rice farmers kept them as food fish but somewhere between the 1820s and 1830s, they began to breed some of the carp for aesthetic appeal.

As farmers developed different color types of Koi, interest spread throughout the prefecture (similar to a state in the United States) and then throughout Japan. National interest for Koi in Japan increased tremendously when Emperor Hirohito was presented Koi for the Imperial Palace moat in 1914.

Most people involved in the hobby consider the Niigata prefecture in Japan as the birthplace from which the Nishikigoi sprang. More specifically, areas in and around Ojiya City in Niigata are regarded in Koi history as the home of Nishikigoi.

Wild carp were called "Koi" in Japan, but the term was also used to describe colored carp. The name Nishikigoi was given to these "colored Koi carp" during World War-II. Today colored carp are simply called Koi and the term has evolved into the common name for them worldwide.

Many people in Japan recognize the term Nishikigoi but may not be familiar with the term Koi.

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Origin of Koi

So many inventions and customs originated in China that it’s not uncommon for me to learn one that I never knew about before. Sometimes, however, the claims get a little ridiculous.

My favorite is the claim that the Japanese are actually a lost tribe of Chinese from southern Zhejiang, and that the Japanese language has evolved out of the dialect of Wenzhou. I think the first part is simply a creative attempt to explain Japan’s financial success while holding onto Chinese pride. The second part is undoubtedly rooted in the fact that a lot of Chinese people think that Wenzhou’s dialect–a dialect reknowned for being totally unintelligible to speakers of virtually any other dialect in China–sounds like Japanese. The people that say it sounds like Japanese usually understand no actual Japanese. As someone that understands Japanese, I can assure you that Wenzhou-hua sounds nothing like Japanese.

Recently I ran into another possible example of a far-fetched claim related to Japan. The claim is that the practice of keeping koi (colorful carp) originated in China. I immediately found this suspect, but then figured it was probably largely because my time spent in Japan was my first significant contact with the tradition, and the word koi has been imported into the English language from Japanese (not Chinese) recently. Obviously, neither of these reasons are real evidence that the practice of raising koi really originated in Japan.

by John Pasden, his live in China

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Creating a Japanese Garden and Landscape

Designing a Japanese or Oriental-style garden means blending simple design elements with an aesthetic principle that seeks to replicate nature. While many Western gardens seek to tame nature by organizing it to fit in a prefigured design, Japanese gardens try to emulate what actually occurs in the natural world. The following article discusses how you can transform your setting into a Japanese-style garden complete with Japanese design elements, structures, and ornaments reflective of the Far East.

First, assess your garden or landscape space. Japanese gardens will work for large settings just as well as very small areas that perhaps constitute the size of an average garden shed. However, a small garden space means approaching the overall design with a minimalist view and choosing only a few simple and sparse objects. If your space is large than there are many avenues to consider, but a few main elements that occur in traditional Japanese gardens would include rock or stone features, water features, and Oriental plants. Optional elements might be decks, fencing, walls, bridges, statues, wildlife, etc…

There are many ways to incorporate stone and rock into your Japanese garden; while these may be aesthetic reflections, they may also be quite useful in the garden. Placing a rock in the middle of a garden pond may serve no other purpose than to reflect the idea of an island in the middle of the sea—a lovely touch for any Oriental garden. However, placing large flat river stones at a shallow spot in your pond could almost constitute a bridge if it allows visitors a passage from one section of garden to another. Of course, a true bridge made of stone to span any part of the garden is an excellent way to bring Japan to your landscape as the Japanese are quite famous for their stone and lacquered wood bridges.

Stone is used in many ways. It may even be needed to represent the role of water in nature. Consider a gravel stream for a border or a pool of stones around an ornamental cherry tree. Groupings of large stones might even be thought to represent the mountains of Japan. When water is not easily incorporated, stone makes a wonderful choice for a traditional Japanese garden. Stone may also be used for garden paths, basins, and even rustic benches placed throughout the garden where scenery may be best enjoyed.

Water is a basic component of a Japanese garden. From very plain stone basins to large ponds that are home to goldfish or koi, the role of water is important to bring a sense of natural balance to your garden. Waterfalls that tumble over stone or very simple fountains that trickle from a bamboo shaft—consider a water feature that is appropriate for your space but also one that you will be able to maintain. Garden ponds require significant maintenance, but they are truly beautiful in any setting when properly cared for and will doubtless become the focal point of any garden setting.

You will also want to consider any structures for your garden in the design stage. A garden pond will not only be enhanced by a bridge, but even simple decking that zigzags a side of the pond will greatly reflect the Japanese style. It will also allow you to keep some of your pond plants contained; many water garden plants are very invasive and require lots of maintenance, but if contained near your pond, you will still maintain the look you want with far less work. Other structures to consider may be pagoda like gazebos, small pavilions and stone towers.

Plantings will go far to suggest a Japanese style. From bonsai to water lilies, there are many plants that are great choices for any Oriental garden. Consider trees, shrubs and low-growing plants for a good balance. Rather than many trees, consider only one tree as a focal point, or strategically planted trees. Shrubs make great borders and provide a bit of height to the area when trees are few. Flowers and lush green plants certainly have their place in a Japanese garden; consider moss, chrysanthemum, azaleas, weeping forsythia, funkia, cape jasmine, plantain lily and many more depending on your own taste and garden climate.

Finally, consider other ornamental Japanese features that will also provide important functions. If privacy is an issue, incorporate bamboo fencing. Few other features will so predominantly reflect the Japanese aesthetic in the garden as bamboo. Japanese stone lanterns or lighting fixtures of an Oriental nature are also useful garden elements. There are many Japanese garden ornaments available online or from local garden centers. Items like stone containers and lacquered pots make fine choices. When choosing garden props, opt for simplicity and always remember that less is more in a Japanese garden.

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