It’s kind of hard to imagine that the beautiful Japanese Koi fish came from a rather plain and ugly fish, but that is exactly where they came from! The current day Koi are actually descendents of a black fish called a Magoi, or the common carp. There was little to be said for the common carp, but they were prominent all over Eastern Asia. Dating back almost 25,000 years ago, they were found in the Black, Azov, Caspian, and Aral seas all around China. There is some speculation about how the carp actually ended up in Japan, but many believe that they were brought to Japan by way of traders.
Around the 17th century, many rice farmers in Japan begin to raise carp in their flooded rice patties to supplement their diets. Over time, they begin to notice slight color variations among the carp (mostly reds), and started picking them out from the crowd. As years passed, they began to cross-breed the colored fish, and experimenting with the different varieties that formed. In the early 1800’s color mutations started to appear and the once common black carp now came in red, white, and even light yellow.
And it really didn’t stop there! Koi breeding is still alive and well today, and there are over 100 different color varieties on record.
While it is difficult to pin down certain facts about the Koi’s history, we do have clues in many Chinese and Japanese books. One of the first known writings (a Chinese book written during the Western Chin Dynasty, 265-316 A.D.) referred to the Koi or Nishikigoi as being white, red, black and blue. In later years, many Japanese breeders began to document their color variations and experiments.
Think that your Koi has what it takes to win a competition? Then you are not alone. Koi judging is an art form, and many Koi breeders travel all over the world today showing off their beautiful fish. In 1914, there was an exposition in Tokyo that featured some of the most beautiful colored carp in the entire world. Prize winning Koi can sell for thousands of dollars, sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.
No one knows for sure what is in store for the once plain colored fish, but it is sure to be bright and colorful. Every day, Koi hobbyists are hard at work trying to come up with the next color variety or pattern.