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Koi Fish Meaning






Koi Fish meaning in Japan is good fortune or luck they also are associated with perseverance in adversity and strength of purpose, the Koi fish symbolize good luck, abundance and perseverance. Symbolic in Buddhism is to represent courage. Today the fish are considered to be symbolic of advancement materially and spiritually.

According to Japanese legend, if a koi fish succeeded in climbing the falls at a point called Dragon Gate on the Yellow River, it would be transformed into a dragon. Based on that legend, it became a symbol of worldly aspiration and advancement.

Another legend states that the koi climb the waterfall bravely, and if they are caught, they face their death on the cutting board bravely like a samuri. In Japan, the word koi refers primarily to the wild variety. As a result, many of the country's symbolic meanings for the fish refer to the wild variety instead of the fish species as a whole. One of the primary reasons the fish is symbolic in Japanese culture is because it is known for swimming upstream no matter what the conditions are. These fish are even said to swim up waterfalls. This is viewed as an absolute show of power because they will continue to swim upstream as if on a mission. They cannot be distracted or deterred by anything. Koi's swimming downstream are considered bad luck.

Koi were developed from common carp (in ancient China and was later transferred to Korea and Japan, and are still popular there because they are a symbol of love and friendship.

Colorful Nishikigoi (Koi) have been divided into some 70 varieties according to different color patterns, but taxonomically they all belong to one species-Cyprinus Carpio Linne (1758). Carpio-the name of the island where the goddess of love, Venus, was born and brought up-means fecundity. The name “Carpio” is apt as Koi are fertile; each spawn on an average about 100,000 eggs every time. It is therefore significant and proper that “Koi” sounds the same as Koi meaning “love” in Japanese.


Symbols of strength and masculinity in Japan, Koi are know there as the "warrior's fish". Each year in the month of May, beautiful koinobori (streamers) in the shape of Koi are flown form poles in celebration of the Boy's Day Festival. The streamers symbolize the Japanese parents hope that their sons will demonstrate courage and strength, like that of the nishikigoi. The koi fish is a popular symbol for the family, - black koi for father, flame red koi for mother, blue and white for boy, and pink and red for girl.

Due to the many color variations and patterns, Koi are sometimes thought to be different species, yet they are all Cyprinus carpio. They are some apparent exceptions, such as the novel butterfly Koi.

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Bekko: The translation of the name is "tortoise shell", and these fish can be red, yellow, or white.

Kohaku: The two major colors, white and red, which is the very meaning of their name. These color are know to be symbolic of career success.

Kuchibeni: The red and white color symbolize love.

Kumonryu: Have block spots on a white body and the other variation of this Koi is a body that is totally black. They represent change and transformation.

Ogon Koi: The platinum colored fish represents the fulfillment of wealth in the form of success in business.

Yamabuki Koi: The gold fish represents (of course) gold, wealth and prosperity.

Ochiba Shigure: Grey and brown in color and can mean "autumn leaves on water" or "leaves fallen on the water."


Koi Carp History

The first signs of the modern day era of Koi-keeping began in the 19th century, in the region of present day Niigata Prefecture, on the west coast of the main Japanese island of Honshu. Here, local farmers bred carp to supplement their diet of rice. In an early example of mixed farming, the carp were raised in the ponds that were used to flood the rice paddies.

When color mutations appeared, it wasn’t long before these carp were separated and bred on purpose. A red mutation (hoo-kazuki) was found first, followed by a white mutation. Cross breeding eventually resulted in red and white carp (called hara-aka or hara-hi, meaning “red belly”).

As the interest in this pastime grew, further selective breeding, which took place in the region now known as Yamakoshi, produced the Sarasa, a carp with a white body and red marking on its back, the true ancestor of the most prized of all Koi, the Kohaku, a white-bodied carp with various red markings on its head, back, and flanks.

From the Meiji era (1867-1912) to the middle of the Taisho era (1912-1926), Koi were variously referred to as Moyogoi (Koi with patterns), Moyomon (thing with patterns), or Kawarigoi (fancy patterns). Irogoi (colored Koi) was another name in use in Japan at that time.

Austria also had a hand in the mutation of Koi. Scaleless carp or leather carp (kawagoi), were bred in 1782 in Austria followed by the mirror carp (kagami-goi) in 1798, with large reflective scales. These doitsu (German) carp were first imported into Japan in 1904 to supplement the breeding of carp as a food source. However, cross breeding with fully scaled colored carp soon produced many beautiful variations of Koi.

In the seventh year of the Taisho era (1919), Kiyoshi Abe, a prefecture government fisheries expert, saw a Sanke bred by Elizaburo Hoshino in Takezawa-mura and promptly dubbed it Nishikigoi in praise of the splendor of the fish. Nishiki means “beautiful color combination” and is specifically applied to the high quality woven brocade used to create the waist belt (obi) worn with a Kimono. It has become common today for Koi to be known as “Living Jewels” or “Swimming Flowers”, reflecting the esteem with which they are held in Japan.

The Asagi is one of the oldest Koi fish Breeds of Nishikigoi and has provided the basis for many subsequent varieties. Asagi are blue-grey in color, some have a red belly which can sometimes come up to the lateral lines and cheeks of the Koi. The scales upon the back are edged in a darker grey giving a highlight to each individual scale. Its back is covered in a net-like reticulated scale pattern of indigo, navy blue or pale blue. The light blue head should be clear and unblemished. The base of the pectoral fins, tail fin, stomach, and gill plates is a deep orange or red color.

Shusui is a doitsu (scaleless) version of Asagi, usually with large mirror scales along the lateral lines and/or to the right and left of the dorsal line.

Koi with a red head patch are called "Tancho.", do not form a single, independent kind of Nishikigoi; they all can be bred from Kohaku, Taisho Sankshoku or Showa Sanshoku. Their red patch happens to show up only in the head region. Tancho, therefore, can not be produced in bulk even if you so wish. Most common are "Tancho Kohaku (all-white Koi with Tancho)," "Tancho Sanshoku (white Koi with Sumi similar to Shiro Bekko, and with Tancho)," and "Tancho Showa (Showa Sanshoku without red markings except for Tancho)," etc. However, "Tancho Goshiki (Koi of five colors with Tancho)," and "Tancho Hariwake" are rare.

The essential point for appreciation is the red patch in the head region, of course. The red head patch sitting right at the center of the head region is the best. The white skin is also important as it is the milky white color that sets the red head patch off to advantage.

Doitsu lineage does not mean Nishikigoi bred in Germany, but rather those Crossbred with Japanese Koi and black carp imported originally for food from Germany. They differ from ordinary Nishikigoi (or 'Wagoi' meaning Japanese Koi) in scale arrangement.

Doitsu Koi with lines of scales on the back and along the lateral lines are called "Kagami-goi (mirror carp)," and those without scales or with only one line of scales on each side along the base of the dorsal fin. Doitsu Koi are crossbred into almost all Koi breeds of Nishikigoi. Doitsu Koi are to be viewed for the orderliness of scale arrangement and the absence of unnecessary scales. Each Koi should have the features characteristic of its own original variety.

Ochiba Shigures are made by breeding a Chagoi with a Soragoi. Look for a nice Kohaku-like brown pattern. This is a very nice fish and this type really stands out in any collection. The Japanese breeders often name the Koi after things that they like.


Koi Fish Meaning by the Chinese

Carp were considered a symbol of strength. Koi are constantly swimming upstream and against the current because of this their image is used to represent strength, independence, perseverance, ambition and good luck.

The fish is symbolically employed as the emblem of wealth or abundance, on account of the similarity in the pronunciation of the words fish, and superfluity, and also because fish are extremely plentiful in Chinese waters. Owing to its reproductive powers it is a symbol of regeneration, and, as it is happy in its own element or sphere, so it has come to be the emblem of harmony and connubial bliss. As fish are reputed to swim in pairs, so a pair of fish is emblematic of the joys of union, especially of a sexual nature; it is also one of the charms to avert evil, and is included among the auspicious signs on the Footprints of Buddha. "The fish signifies freedom from all restraint. As in the water a fish moves easily in any direction, so in the Buddha-state the fully-emancipated knows no restraints or obstruction."

The carp, with its scaly armour, which is regarded as a symbol of martial attributes, is admired because it struggles against the current, and it has therefore become the emblem of perseverance.

Reference: Chinese Symbolism and Art Motifs by: C.A.S. Williams





Japanese Koi Fish


There are many Koi Breeds or Koi Varieties. Each Koi is a unique fish in that no two are alike. Within this uniqueness there is an order of things, so that Koi can be divided into broad categories based on their markings and colors. In Japan there are 13 basic lineages recognized and these are accepted throughout the world. Within these groups there are numerous other divisions which relate to the way in which the colors, scales or combination of these are formed in the individual fish.

All Koi terms are in Japanese. The Japanese relate a great deal to the natural world around them so it is not surprising how many meaning there are applied to Koi breeds derive from the names of flowers, mountains, or plants.

Unique Koi breeds can be described in many ways and each way is no less correct than any other, it being purely one’s opinion on the features of the Koi. In other cases a precise name can be applied without any problem. Where the Japanese do not have a single word to describe a combination of features, they simply add one term to another. When these terms are used in the West they may be reduced somewhat so that Utsurimono will normally be called Utsuri.

It is not important for the average pond owner to know the differing terms used for Koi; it only matters that they find pleasure in their fish and in their colors and patterns.



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Modern colored carp, or Koi, probably didn’t exist before 1800, through the Chinese cultivated wild carp and inbred the golden variety, producing a goldfish-like carp which was prized because it grew so large. Carp are considered lucky by the Chinese; they also represent industriousness because they are “survivors” and fight strongly against raging torrents, serving as a good example for Chinese children. Work hard and persevere. A stamp was issued about 1900 to commemorate this philosophy.





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