The Koi Fish also referred to as Nishikigoi (錦鯉, literally “brocaded carp”) is a domestic variant of the wild Amur carp that symbolizes tenacity, endurance, bravery, and love all at once. Today, the Koi carp has became an iconic and meaningful symbol in Japan. As a result, it also plays a significant role in Japanese tattoos and Japanese art while also being considered as one of the highliest valued figure in Japanese culture.
Moreover, this iconic Japanese fish is a source of tremendous pride throughout the archipelago, particularly in the town of Yamakoshi, where it was born. To demonstrate how much this fish is valued, Koi fishes still commonly appears on today’s Japanese prints as well as paintings by famous Japanese painters.
Let’s find out a bit more about this famous fish and its meanings in Japanese Culture:
Origins and History
The existence of the Koi fish in Japan has been documented since the 5th century BC where we can read that that this lovely fish was raised in China and Korea before being introduced to the archipelago, where it was first seen in the Niigata province.
It was initially a dark-colored common carp brought into the country during Sino-Japanese invasions. Since then, carps have been kept in ponds that feed rice fields in Japan for several centuries, mostly to vary their diet.
As mentioned before, these carps are known in Japan as “Nishikigoi” (colored fish) and are raised with zeal, particularly in Yamakoshi where we can see the biggest koi fish farm in the world, featuring the most sought-after species. Thus, Koi fishes have became the pride of Yamakoshi as local breeders carefully look after them well. For example, to avoid fishes to die from cold weathers, Koi fishes spend the winter in fish pools and then return to the rice field ponds when the weather improves. This shows with how much caution they take care of these animals.
However, the birth of the first colored koi fishes only came after an unanticipated chromatic mutation that may have happened in the nineteenth century. This specific mutation produced red, white, and eventually bicolored individuals.
At this period, carp were valued for their vibrant colors, which gave them aesthetic features. This marked the beginning of decorative koi fish breeding, which resulted in the creation of a hundred different carp kinds across the province, in hues such as yellow, orange, red, and black.
The koi fish gained popularity in 1914 after the Emperor was presented with eight koi at a large event in Tokyo. Sadly for them, they became victim of their success and started to be sold in every part of the globe after that.
Finally, Koi fish have become quite valuable in recent years. Collectors are always on the hunt for the rarest species, which may fetch up to $200,000 at auction. The “tancho carp” for example is a popular fish among Japanese anglers because of its white hue and red mark on the head, which mimics the country’s flag.
Average Koi fishes weight around 10-12 pounds (4-5kg) but some species can go up to 35 pounds (~16kg)
Average Koi fishes can grow up to 12 to 15 inches long (~30-40cm), but some bigger species can exceed to 34-35 inches (~90cm) long.
Average colors for Koi fish are white, red, black, blue, yellow, and cream
Koi Fish are a domestic variant of the wild Amur carp, meaning that they do not thrive in the Nature, only in artificial habitats.
Koi carp are omnivorous, feeding mostly on algae and plants on muddy bottoms that they detect with their barbels. They also devour insects and tiny mollusks.
The carp eats more and grows larger as the water temperature rises. Did you know that if you feed them regularly, they would come and eat from your hand?
The typical lifespan of a koi carp is around 20 years, while some individuals can live up to 70 years.
✦ Water type
Koi carps are freshwater fishes. They need a lot of space to live, which is why they prefer outdoor ponds to aquariums.
They defend themselves from the cold in the winter by hiding under the mud and going into semi-hibernation mode.
Meaning in Japanese Culture
In Asian gardens, the koi is said to provide calm and serenity. It also represents spiritual strength and perseverance in facing life’s challenges and moving forward. But it also represents social ascension in Japanese culture, which has become more prominent in the twenty-first century.
One of the most notorious events involving the Koi fishes in Japanese Culture is known as Kodomo no hi.
Kodomo no hi festival
Kodomo no hi (子供の日, lit Children’s Day) is a Japanese children’s event held on May 5th each year. During the Kodomo no hi, Japanese hang Koi carp-shaped pennants depicting an entire family swimming against the current all over Japan. Most of the times, the father is represented as a black carp represents, the mother as a a red carp represents the mother, and the rest are the kids.
This custom is meant to bring good fortune to the family and serve as a model of bravery for future generations. The children are washed in iris baths on this day to honor the father’s gallant spirit, and they may also drink sake.
The black koi symbolizes the strength to overcome the adversity. This emblem is ideal for individuals who have overcome difficulties in their life and reached a point of strength in their mindset. Depression, drug addiction, an abusive relationship, and a variety of other issues might be hurdles.
Mothers, dads, sons, and daughters are all represented by different-colored koi fish in Japanese culture. Families fly fish flags representing each member of their family on Children’s Day (May 5), making them seem to “swim upstream” against the wind. The father is symbolized by the black koi.
The red koi is typically associated with love. Not just any love, but a passionate love. A red or orange koi represents the family’s mother, while a red or pink koi represents a daughter. Red koi can also represent strength and courage, both of which are associated with the color red.
The blue koi is generally connected with masculinity and fertility. Blue and white koi are emblems of a family’s son. It also symbolizes serenity, tranquillity, and quiet, as does everything blue.
A gold-colored koi is frequently depicted in tattoos by combining yellow and orange. These gold-colored fish represent prosperity and wealth. Yamabuki is the Japanese word for them.
Meaning when associated with other symbols
The yin-yang symbol is frequently associated with koi fish with a black and white individuals miming a female and male koi swimming together, symbolizing the perfect balance of two opposing forces coming together as one. In Taoism, yin and yang represent the opposing aspects of all things, as well as their ultimate balance and harmony. The fish’s circular movement expresses the concept that everything in life is interconnected.
Note: Pisces’ zodiac emblem also portrays two fish swimming in a yin-yang pattern.
Water and Fire
Using both fire and water with koi fish may further represent life’s balance and harmony as it symbolizes the coming together of opposing forces.
In some old Japanese folktales, it is said that the koi may transform theirselves into dragons at the conclusion of their long and tough trip. Thus association between Koi and Dragon may symbolise a metamorphosis.
The dragon koi represents triumph over adversity, alluding to the koi’s ascent over the Dragon Gate. The dragon koi signifies power and determination, the determination to succeed over all circumstances. A dragon is also a symbol of strength and fury, as well as mystery. It symbolizes rebirth, a fresh start, or a new beginning. It symbolizes the capacity to go forward and start over.
The lotus flower is a lovely flower that blooms in muddy and humid ponds. Just as the koi began as a little fish and evolved into a powerful dragon, the lotus begins in a filthy pond and grows into a lovely flower.
Thus, combining the lotus and koi together may symbolize represent even more strength, effort, and progress.
Perseverance is the most popular meaning of koi fish tattoos. Koi Fish swimming against the current are very notorious tattoos symbolizing personal problems that one has conquered or is currently trying to conquer.
Moreover, they can also evoke love and affection with others, and especially with family, due to their peaceful nature and sociable tendency.
Finally, because of the large number of eggs the female koi fish lays, it is also associated with fertility and children. Finally, this vibrant fish indicates the road to take in order to accomplish its destiny.
How much do Koi Fish cost?
A healthy koi fish of approximately 5 inches in length costs roughly $20-$50. However, depending on the type and size of koi fish, costs can range from $5 to well over $10,000.
|$5 – $10,000+
|$1000 – $30,000+
|$100 – $1,000+
|Koi fish food
|$50 – $150+
|$20 – $150+
|$25 – $100+
|$25 – $100+