Koi, known as the ‘living jewels of Japan’ and certainly the beautiful jewels of my pond are intelligent, protective and positive, as often witnessed from their behaviour. It is hard not to be seduced by their dazzling colours of oranges, reds, yellows, blacks, silvers, bronzes, even greens and blues.
I love their balletic movements and when swimming together as a bunch they are like a flaming, swirling, underwater wind. Equally appealing is their tameness, a report that has developed overtime.
Watching them and raising them takes this section of my garden into a sort of Zen mysticism and a relationship that is mutually beneficial. They can feel the vibrations from my feet as I walk to toward the pond and get themselves into an excited frenzy, twirling and dancing as they know I am approaching. It is also interesting to observe how they respond differently to the approach of others than they do to me. When feeding they come to the surface and like to be touched and hand fed. I love these intimate little moments.
Koi, descendants of the common carp found their way to various parts of the world from China in the 1800’s. In Japan koi have been cultivated as far back as the 17th century, when a few fish with colourful patches were discovered and bred together in an isolated north western coastal area of Japan. By the 19th century, breeding of decorative koi had become a thriving business. During the Tokyo Exhibition of 1914, the most beautiful specimens were presented to Crown Prince Hirohito as a gift, and koi quickly became a national treasure.
Unfortunately koi appeal not only to people but to herons, cats and hawks, just a few among their threatening predators. I have however planted exotic plants and trees in and around the pond, which together with the cascading water, provides ample hiding space from predators.
While their jewel box colours may seem random and overwhelming, there are precise ways of identifying and naming koi. The elaborate Japanese names are based on colour, patterning, scalation, and lustre. For the novice enthusiast, the Tetra Encyclopaedia of koi breaks down the dizzying number of varieties into 14 major classifications.