For a fish that can get more expensive than a Lamborghini, is the Japanese koi really worth the hype?
It’s quite easy to understand if a Lamborghini Huracan that parks in your neighbor’s driveway is worth more than what you could earn for an entire year. That sexy-looking, beastly-sounding specimen of a car wouldn’t fail to turn heads when it passes by.
You can insert more other expensive things here: motorcycles, cars, yacht, jets; or the small things like smartphones, handbags, or a suit. But a fish, a fish? Now that is a concept of “luxury” that is hard to jive with.
Believe it or not, there exist in the world right now, a single piece of fish that’s worth a whopping $1.8 million. If you come to think of it, that’s about 10 Lamborghinis!
According to a report from Business Insider, this koi fish, which won Grand Champion at the prestigious All Japan Koi Show in 2018, holds the title of being the most expensive living thing to ever come out of fresh water.
For a fish that looks like an overgrown common goldfish, it makes you wonder, there really must be something about the koi that makes it so expensive. We’re here to help you figure it out.
A bit of a history: the Koi, or in Japanese, the Nishikigoi (ornamental carp), are fish that belongs to the family of the common carp. And while their ordinary fish cousins appear brown in the wild, through selective breeding, numerous colors and patterns were developed.
Though claims may vary, koi authorities recognize the Chinese rice farmers to be the first people in the 17th century to keep carp as rich source of protein in their rice paddies. The hype crossed over the Sea of Japan and into the Land of the Rising Sun where the Japanese began to breed them for their physical attributes, just like how dogs were bred for specific traits.
Koi Fish Painting – Artist Wu Qingxia – Circa 1910
And much like our canine friends, the Japanese and now the rest of the Asian people take koi breeding to heart.
The rest of the world was only introduced to koi keeping and breeding during the early parts of the 20th century. This came to be when selectively bred koi, or those of show quality, were exhibited, for the first time, at an annual exposition in Tokyo. So, it’s safe to say that the hobby originated from Asia.
But beyond its striking colors, mesmerizing patterns, and hypnotic gait, the koi fish means something more for its breeders.
For the Japanese, the koi is important not only because it is their country’s national fish. For them, it symbolizes virtues, such as Perseverance. This fish has the tendency to swim upstream, and despite the hurdles, it continues to move, to “go with the flow.” This serves as an inspiration, a symbol, for people to remain steadfast in the face of adversity, while developing character strength and finding life’s purpose.
Next would be Transformation or the Passage from Boyhood to Manhood. In the Japanese feast Tango no sekku, which is now called Children’s Day, one could find a lot of carp-shaped windsocks called Koinobori flying all around. These koi decorations relate to young male children and the hope that they become a dragon or a great man in the future.
More koi symbolisms include the gift of wisdom, spirituality, stillness, luck, prosperity, good fortune, and success in life.
The colors of the koi also hold great meaning. Gold koi, for example, exudes wealth, fortune, and growth. The Kohaku, which is a common color pairing of red and white, represent love and compassion. The Ogon, or the platinum koi, is also about success in every life’s endeavours. The Ochiba, or the koi bearing blue and yellow color combinations, signifies transition or the change of seasons. Meanwhile, black koi (and other color combinations herein) is closely associated with strength and the will to overcome obstacles.
If the Chinese keeps koi for its nutritional value and the Japanese, for how it symbolizes things in their lives, the rest of the world falls in love for its glory and splendour it effortlessly exudes.
One can’t deny the aesthetic appeal of koi fish and as mentioned here time and time again, they can get very expensive, with prices reaching up to a couple of million dollars. But they can be as cheap as well – for like a couple of bucks!
Koi Show | Koi Question
So what makes a koi priceless or costless?
Koi prices generally vary within four determining factors: size, color, pattern, and movement.
The Four Categories (in no particular order)
- Sizes – Judges during competitions and buyers, who are often keeping attuned in the sidelines during these events, consider how big or small koi appears. Huge sizes make an impression that the fish is well-fed and has already reached its potential. However, some koi varieties don’t reach peak sizes like others do.
- Color – the top koi should exhibit a perfect balance of color between the skin and the patches. It is also important that the color is deeply intense, and uniform.
- Pattern – regardless of the breed, the ideal pattern is sharp and distinct.
- Movement – judges and enthusiasts alike also give marks to how the koi gracefully moves in the water.
There are an incredible number of koi varieties in the world today but more so often, there are only about three kinds that always make it to the list of the precious ones: the Kohaku, the Sanke, and the Showa.
Almost every year, these three kinds of koi dominate competition shows. The koi that garnered that record-breaking price mentioned above was a kohaku which has a white body, accentuated with reddish-orange pattern.
Nagaoka Koi Show | CC
Other than the four factors, bloodlines are also being looked into. Breeding koi requires an intense amount of effort, time, and resources. Sure, a single fish can spawn hundreds of thousands of fish in its lifetime. But the breeder needs to select only the best of the best which he will then nurture for the years to come.
The breeder with the most expensive koi, for example, started with over 3 million fish. From that bunch were chosen 15,000 to be raised for the first year. The breeder further culled the numbers to 1,000 in the second year, and so on.
That winning fish was the result of close to a decade of patience and hardwork from the breeder, which by the way, was paid off with a hefty price.
Bottomline, excellent appearance and good bloodlines serve as quick gauge on how to determine the value of a koi fish. But whether it’s expensive as hell or as cheap as your short-lived goldfish, there’s always joy that can be found in keeping koi fish in captivity.