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Japan's Biggest Koi Show Captivates Global Fans

Renowned as "swimming gems" for their vibrant hues, the best ornamental carp (nishikigoi or koi), can fetch more than ¥100 million (around $674,000) each.

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Various types of koi were presented at the exhibition, January 27. (©JAPAN Forward by Hidemitsu Kaito)

On January 27 and 28, Tokyo hosted the All Japan Nishikigoi Show at the Tokyo Ryutsu Centre in Ota Ward. The show is the biggest competitive exhibition for ornamental carp in Japan. It attracted about 2,000 nishikigoi (or koi) from around the world to compete for elegance. The overall championship was claimed by a Russian owner.

A Symbol of Peace

Koi are Japan's national fish, but they have amassed a worldwide fan base as a popular ornamental fish. Due to their non-confrontational nature, koi have come to be known as a symbol of peace.

The origin of colored koi can be traced back to the mid-Edo period (1603–1868), specifically in the Chubu region of Niigata Prefecture. They emerged due to a genetic mutation from common carp bred for consumption.

As the Meiji era dawned, the distinct red and white varieties of nishikigoi began to appear. Over time, they evolved to encompass a rich tapestry of over 100 types. Some specimens can surpass a meter in length and weigh more than 70 kilograms (154 pounds). With attentive care, they generally reach a length of approximately 80 centimeters (31.5 inches) within four years.

Koi fish change color and patterns during their growth process. January 27. (©JAPAN Forward by Hidemitsu Kaito)

Leading Export Product

In Niigata Prefecture, nishikigoi has surpassed rice in export value, emerging as a leading export product. The total export value for Niigata's agricultural, forestry, and fisheries products in 2022 was ¥4.9 billion USD ($33 million JPY). Out of this, nishikigoi accounted for 65.9%, while rice comprised 30.1%, together making up 96%. The majority of Niigata's nishikigoi, around 60%, head to Asia.

China stands out as the largest importer of Japan's nishikigoi, accounting for roughly 20% of the exports. However, China ceased issuing new export licenses two years ago. Existing licenses expired at the end of October 2023, halting koi exports from the following month. According to officials from the Fisheries Agency, exports remain suspended as of January 28.

Alexander Romashchenko (second from left) and others admire the winning koi. (©JAPAN Forward by Hidemitsu Kaito)

At the Tokyo exhibition, a Chinese nishikigoi enthusiast expressed his perspective on this matter. He explained, "Since it takes time to raise nishikigoi, the suspension won't pose a significant problem." He added, "Owners prefer Japanese-bred nishikigoi for their superior body shape, color, and patterns. It's better to have your koi raised in Japan."

Furthermore, the All Japan Nishikigoi Promotion Association confirmed that the Noto Peninsula earthquake that occurred on New Year's Day did not cause damage to Niigata's nishikigoi. This is particularly reassuring, especially considering how the 2004 Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake had a detrimental impact on nishikigoi breeding facilities. It resulted in the tragic loss of many prized fish.

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International Enthusiasts Embrace Nishikigoi Ownership

The owner of the nishikigoi that won the overall championship was Alexander Romashchenko, a Russian who became a nishikigoi owner seven years ago. He entrusted the care of his koi to a breeder in Japan. The winning nishikigoi boasted a striking red and white pattern. It is considered the most difficult to create and indicates a high level of expertise of the koi breeder. 

Alexander Romashchenko (second from left), the recipient of the Overall Championship award. January 28. (©JAPAN Forward by Hidemitsu Kaito)

The exhibition drew attendees from various countries such as China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Germany, Belgium, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Many of them wore koi-themed apparel to express their love for the fish.


One fan, who traveled from Belgium, shared, "I visit Japan three times a year to attend nishikigoi shows in Tokyo, Nagaoka [Niigata Prefecture], and Himeji [Hyogo Prefecture]. The joy of meeting nishikigoi every year never gets old."

The Japanese-born koi serves as a global ambassador, spreading happiness to people worldwide.

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(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Hidemitsu Kaito

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