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IMAGE: Koi Carp
Koi (鯉) is a colored varieties of the Amur carp that are kept for decorative purposes in outdoor koi ponds, water gardens or aquariums. The word of koi comes from the Japanese pronunciation of the common character between Japan and China 鯉 meaning carp. Koi, also called Nishikigoi, is the Japanese pronunciation of the common word between Japan and China 錦鯉 meaning brocade carp.
Koi is an informal group name of the colored variants of C. rubrofuscus. There is a description of koi with color variation in ancient Chinese literature, but many varieties of koi for ornamental purpose, which are now known around the world, originated from the breeding that began in Niigata, Japan in the early 19th century during the Edo period. Several varieties are recognized by the Japanese. Koi varieties are distinguished by coloration, patterning, and scalation. Some of the major colors are white, black, red, orange, yellow, blue, and cream. The most popular category of koi is the Gosanke, which is made up of the Kohaku, Taisho Sanshoku, and Showa Sanshoku varieties.
Carp are a large group of fish originally found in Central Europe and Asia. Various carp species were originally domesticated in East Asia, where they were used as food fish. Carp are coldwater fish, and their ability to survive and adapt to many climates and water conditions allowed the domesticated species to be propagated to many new locations, including Japan. Natural color mutations of these carp would have occurred across all populations.
The Amur carp (Cyprinus rubrofuscus), a member of the cyprinid family species complex native to East Asia, was aquacultured as a food fish at least as long ago as the fifth century BC in China, and Jin Dynasty (fourth century AD) texts mentioned carp with various colors. The Amur carp was previously recognized as a subspecies of the common carp (as C. c. haematopterus), but recent authorities treat it as a separate species under the name C. rubrofuscus.
The oldest record on colored carp in Japan is found in the Japanese history book Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) completed in 720. According to the Nihon shoki, it is recorded that Emperor Keikō praised colored carp in a pond in the Mino region in 94 and that Emperor Suiko saw them in the garden of Soga no Umako's residence in 620.
The systematic breeding of colorful carp in Japan began in Ojiya and Yamakoshi in the Niigata, located on the northeastern coast of Honshu in the 1820s during the Edo period. Mating mutants gave rise first to red carp, then to pale blue Asagi and white, red, and yellow Bekkou. Sarasa with a red pattern on a white background was born around 1830. The variety continued to grow and in the Meiji period, a yellow-based Ki uturi was born. In the Taishō period and the Shōwa period, the repeated crossbreeding gave rise to more flashy varieties, such as Kōhaku , Taishō Sanshoku and Shōwa Sanshoku.
The outside world was unaware of the development of color variations in Japanese koi until 1914, when the Niigata koi were exhibited at an annual exposition in Tokyo. From that time, interest in koi spread throughout Japan. From this original handful of koi, all other Nishikigoi varieties were bred, with the exception of the Ogon variety (single-colored, metallic koi), which was developed relatively recently.
The hobby of keeping koi eventually spread worldwide. They are sold in many pet aquarium shops, with higher-quality fish available from specialist dealers. Collecting koi has become a social hobby. Passionate hobbyists join clubs, share their knowledge and help each other with their koi. In particular, since the 21st century, some wealthy Chinese have imported large quantities of koi from Niigata in Japan, and the price of high-quality carp has soared. In 2018, one carp was bought by a Chinese for about $2 million, the highest price ever. There are also cases in which purchased carp are bred in China and sold to foreign countries, and many breeds are spreading all over the world.