Waking up to Nagaoka covered in a new sheet of snow. We gingerly drove on the icey roads to Ikarashi Koi Farm. First to the Tosai koi houses on the flats. Toshinobu Ikarashi welcomed us to the farm. Yesterday we spoke to Toshinobu about a handful of “secret weapons”. Of course this meant Koi, but what Koi, what size, what variety. We had no idea what tricks he had up his sleeve.
Walking into the koi house we viewed ponds full to the brim of Tosai. Go Sanke, Ochiba, Beni Kumonryu, Doitsu Ochiba and other metallic varieties. Tucked away at the back of the fish house there was a fish tank covered in algae. With a seriously bright light above it. We asked Toshinobu what was in the fish tank, he said, auction koi and secret weapons for you!
He was simply keeping a handful of koi in a fish tank temporarily separated out from the thousands of other Tosai. Most of these koi were in the upcoming Niigata breeders auction. Dozens of Shinkokai breeders in Niigata put forward Koi to be auctioned. People coming from all over the world to attend, these koi go for big sums of money. Unfortunately we’d have left Japan by the time the auction comes around. Looking at the website there are some serious koi up for grabs.
Toshinobu arranged a couple of bowls of koi from the fish tank. Blinding Metallic Doitsu Ochiba, Beni Kumonryu, Gin Rin Kohaku’s and Ochiba. He explained all of these koi have been entered into the upcoming International Junior Koi Show. Discussing different Koi we narrowed it down to a Beni Kumonryu, Gin Rin Kohaku and an Ochiba. The Ochiba in particular had crazy written all over it. Really nice body conformation for such a little koi, good vignette scalation, consistent colour and a unique pattern. An easy decision for us followed, we bought all 3. As mentioned, these 3 beauts will attend the International Junior Koi Show in April.
On the list to purchase was a wide range of varieties. Once our new premises is up and running we need to expand and invest massively into the particular koi and products we haven’t necessarily had in before. Maybe in small batches, but not in great quantity. With this in mind we dived our net into a pond of smaller Tosai available. Selecting each Koi we bowled around 100 koi to begin with. As always getting them in a bowl it’s much easier to see the koi up close. Looking for imperfections and comparing different Koi. We finalised 15 Ochiba/Doitsu Ochiba/Metallic Doitsu Ochiba, and 12 koi of mixed variety.
Now it was time to visit the historical Ikarashi Koi house in the mountains. These koi houses is where he keeps the Nisai and older koi. Toshinobu talked to us about particular parent sets used at the farm. His oldest parent koi is 35 years old ! She is still producing excellent Offspring every year. The koi are Ikarashi have bags of longevity to them. The koi are not pushed growth wise and their Jumbo koi remain in excellent condition. Seeing some of the parent koi that are in excess of 15 years, it’s astonishing to see their faultless body lines, colour all intact, skin looking youthful. Last week at the beginning of the trip at other breeders, we were surprised as to how many jumbo koi had body defects and health problems. Albeit in the North you generally don’t see so many Jumbo koi compared to the South. There is surely something to be said for pushing Koi growth to the limit. Would you rather a perfect 80cm koi or a crooked 90cm koi with half of the Beni fallen off ?
Anyway, I digress.
Viewing our Yonsai Kohaku she is now really coming into her own. The trademark blimp type Ikarashi body, beautiful silky glossy skin. Her colour has improved ten fold. This koi was the last koi we purchased from the late Ikarashi Kazuto. His son Toshinobu is doing a fine job at carrying on his fathers legacy.
Pictured below is Kazuto-San scratching his head as we negotiate price on the Kohaku 2 years ago. Also below is the Kohaku as of today now around 70cm.
Moving on to the Nisai ponds, we crouched down and gazed into the murky waters. Without being able to see about a foot down into the water there are of course extremely special koi hiding away in the water. Especially when the net first goes in they all dive to the bottom of the pond. The Japanese certainly know what they’re doing when they have this murky water.
Shining bright were a handful of Sanke. Toshinobu hunted down particular koi in the pond he wanted to show us. 6 Sanke made it into the bowl, a big range in price points, all of a very high quality. Placing back the ones we were not so keen on. Left us with two koi in the bowl. Unfathomable skin quality on these two koi. Can only really be truly appreciated in the flesh. The beni was perfect from head to tail, the sumi quality outrageous. One koi in particular Toshinobu personally liked and praised it’s body shape hugely. Two sublime Sanke’s in all of their glory.
Driving back down the mountains we reflected on what a fantastic day selecting koi it was. Around each corner in the mountains you can find koi houses and mud ponds. There are secrets yet to be found.
Stay tuned for secrets of Niigata in the next blog post.