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Nishikigoi is a generic term for Koi which have colors and patches and are raised for appreciation.

Over the years the colored carp has been given a number of different names (Nishikigoi) and the oldest reference to the use of Koi dates back to about 550BC when it was used in China. This, however, simply referred to the carp and not to colored Koi, though no doubt mutant colors were not unknown even in those far off days, given that mutations are spontaneous happenings from time to time in all wild species.

As many of the first colored Koi to reach the West were red, or red and white, they were often called Hi-goi and later just goi or Koi. The term Nishikigoi stems from the cloth Nishiki which was imported into China and Japan from India and its neighboring countries; it is a many colored cloth.

Another name that has been used for these carp is Irogoi but this is less seen these days, though the term, meaning color, is today used regarding color feeding which is know as Iroage.

In Japan the term Nishikigoi is the preferred choice. The Koi is the national fish of Japan and, as with most national subjects; this was an official label but was first thought to have been applied by Hideo Miya who used it in the catalog of the first All Japan (Nippon) Nishikigoi show of 1968 held in Tokyo. It was then quickly adopted, as the Koi continued its upward spiral of popularity.

In Japan, the Koi is known as the living jewel, and within the hobby (which is also a multi-million dollar business) they have another saying which is that one starts with Kohaku (red on white) and ends with Kohaku. This means that a person first keeps the Kohaku but then strays to the other more colorful forms, but as experience and greater appreciation is acquired, eventually one returns to the Kohaku to appreciate that which could not be seen with inexperienced eyes. It is a nice saying but whether it is true can only be determined on an individual basis because there are so many beautiful Koi that to say one is better than another is surely not possible.

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Nishikigoi in English

The fall time is the most joyous season for Koi hobbiest, as the color of Koi contrast vividly with pond water, which becomes clearer with the falling temperature every day. Congenial friends used to gather together to talk over sake cups about the essentials of Koi’s color- finishing.

The pretty, colorful Nishikigoi 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- earns fecundity. The name “Carpio” is apt as Japanese Koi fish are prolific; each spawns 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.

Deprived from “Carpio” are Carp in English and Karpfen in German, etc. Nishikigoi were first exported to these countries, the fish was called variously in English: Fancy Carp, Colored Carp, Colorful Carp, Red Carp, Brocaded Carp, Flower Carp, and Rainbow Carp. Interestingly, they were once sold as Samurai Carp.

Today, “carp” is used to mean the original, black Magoi; and “Koi” is applied to the colorful varieties raised for appreciation. Such distinction has been found in American dictionaries as well.

Reference: The Cult of the Koi by Michugo Tamadachi

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