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Swimming Jewels?! The Appeal of Nishikigoi – Beautiful Aquarium Fish Drawing the World’s Attention

You will find Nishikigoi (colored carp) swimming elegantly in the ponds of Japanese gardens and other spots. You’ll find yourself enthralled by its beauty, which is why it has also come to be called “oyogu hoseki” (swimming jewel). With that, here is a more detailed introduction of Nishikigoi.

What is Nishikigoi?

Nishikigoi is characterized by its beautiful colors and spots. It is an aquarium fish that is called “swimming jewel” and "swimming art" (oyogu geijutsu) in light of the elegant way that it swims in water. Drawing a lot of attention worldwide, this fish will make you feel the “wabisabi” (quiet simplicity and subdued refinement) and “okuyukashisa” (grace) that epitomizes everything that is Japanese. It used to be called Irogoi, Hanagoi, Moyogoi, and Kawarigoi, but Nishikigoi has become its established name today. Its name embodies the sense that it is a carp that is as beautiful as nishiki (silk fabric that is woven with gold threads).

The Secret Story of the Birth of Nishikigoi

Nishikigoi is said to have been born approximately 200 years ago at the former Yamakoshi Village (currently known as Nagaoka City) and Ojiya City in the mountainous areas of Niigata. Back then, the black carp called “Magoi” that was being bred in the water reservoir suddenly mutated, giving birth to carps with different colors and patterns on their skin. The curious locals initially loved the fish as a form of entertainment, but these carps gradually became known throughout the country thanks to trade with other regions. After a series of improvements in a bid to create a more beautiful carp, there are now various types in existence.

Types of Nishikigoi

There are apparently about a hundred kinds of Nishikigoi that are being bred in Japan today. The crossbreeding of Japanese carps only changed their colors and patterns, but when they were bred with German carps that were brought to Japan in 1904, the scope of their mutation further expanded. These carps have come to be called by different names based on their color, shape, and other characteristics.
The Kohaku type is by far the most popular. It is characterized by its simple appearance of a white body with brilliant red markings all over. Other typical Nishikigoi are: the Taisho Sanshoku that is much like the Kohaku, but with black markings on the body instead, and the Showa Sanshoku that has more black skin compared to the Taisho Sanshoku. Meanwhile, there are also types that have silvery scales, so they are more colorful, even though they have the same colors and markings, such as the Ginrin Kohaku.
Aside from the above, there are also varieties that have completely different appeals, including the Asagi that is covered in blue scales, and the Yamabuki Ogon that has bright, golden scales. The Shusui variety that was born from crossbreeding with German carps has no scales, but has vivid red markings on its body.

Take Note of These! A Guide on How to Look at Nishikigoi

They say that there are generally three points that must be taken into account when appreciating Nishikigoi – the shape of the body, the quality, and the pattern. The body of Nishikigoi that is bred in ponds with no streaming water has a round shape. The more they are shaped like a beautiful spindle, the more beautiful they get.
Quality refers to the character possessed by the Nishikigoi. In the case of the Kohaku, you have to zero in on its white beauty that is like a blanket of snow, as well as the vividness and depth of its vermillion markings.
But more than anything, it is the pattern that is the most popular point of consideration when viewing Nishikigoi. Each variety has different viewing points, but you can enjoy the individuality of each Nishikigoi, such as those that have dynamic patterns that appeal to those looking at them, and those that have balanced markings.

Places for Appreciating Nishikigoi

Nishikigoi are often seen in Japanese gardens at shrines, parks, and ryokan (Japanese inns). At Ojiya City in Niigata – the birthplace of Nishikigoi – you can go to the museum, Nishikigoi no Sato (Nishikigoi Village), that houses a Japanese garden where Nishikigoi swim. Inside, Nishikigoi are showcased as part of traditional Japanese culture, so it is recommended to those who want to broaden their knowledge in these carps. Furthermore, the entire Shinmachi in Shimabara, Nagasaki Prefecture, is famous as the Koi no Oyogu Machi (Town of Swimming Carps). This town is known for their gorgeous Nishikigoi swimming in canals where abundant spring water flow.

Nishikigoi exhibits an elegant form while swimming in gardens that are rich with Japanese atmosphere. You can see them all throughout Japan, so when you come visit, try to go on an excursion to appreciate these carps.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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