“Nishikigoi”: Niigata’s Swimming Treasures

nishikigoi niigatas swimming treasures

Brightly colored nishikigoi are often referred to as “living art.” Once farmed in the mountain valleys of Niigata’s Chūetsu region as a source of food, the colorful carp are now one of the world’s most sought-after ornamental fish.

At Niigata’s annual Koi Show, held in November, visitors mill about, gazing at the various colorful carp swimming in large, blue viewing tanks. The term ornamental fish typically brings to mind exotic species displayed by hobbyists in specialized aquariums. However, nishikigoi, a vibrantly patterned species also known as a brocaded carp, are best viewed not in fish tanks, but swimming gracefully in large ponds, such as those in Japanese gardens. At the show, though, the fish are displayed in plastic tanks so that potential buyers can easily asses from above the all-important color, markings, and form of specimens that determine the value of a nishikigoi.

In prewar Japan, a residence boasting a garden pond filled with nishikigoi was a symbol of wealth. Nowadays, with large swaths of the Japanese population living in small homes and apartments in cities, nishikigoi have become a rarity. This is not to say, however, that demand for the ornamental carp has fallen…

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