Language of Koi: Tategoi

The Truth About Unfinished Fish

This Kohaku was still available for sale. She is one of the most stunning koi I have ever seen. Something about this koi begs me to buy it. If I had the 1.5mYen, it would be all mine. She has a perfect body, skin, beni, and pattern. This koi will one day be one of the best no doubt. I get excited seeing koi of this caliber. It is so rare to find something like this. But when you see it, you know at first glance you need to go for it. I saw her harvested and I knew she is the one, I pick her to be the top. I kept going into the greenhouse to see this koi, to find a flaw. I couldnt find any. She was perfect in every way albeit a little different than the
This Kohaku was still available for sale. She is one of the most stunning koi I have ever seen. Something about this koi begs me to buy it. If I had the 1.5mYen, it would be all mine. She has a perfect body, skin, beni, and pattern. This koi will one day be one of the best no doubt. I get excited seeing koi of this caliber. It is so rare to find something like this. But when you see it, you know at first glance you need to go for it. I saw her harvested and I knew she is the one, I pick her to be the top. I kept going into the greenhouse to see this koi, to find a flaw. I couldnt find any. She was perfect in every way albeit a little different than the “normal” looking Kohaku. A koi like this is meant to be shown off, you dont have something this beautiful and not want the world to see. She will no doubt win many trophies at many shows around the world.

The name tategoi is one of the most misused terms in the koi industry. It means “unfinished future koi,” a fish with potential to become a very high-class fish. The problem with the term is that new hobbyists don’t know how tough tategoi are to find, and dealers like to use terms like this to help sell koi.

The thing about true tategoi is that they can take years to finish, be very expensive, or never develop the way everyone thought they would. That is the risk when buying high-class koi.

Tosai (one growing season koi) are a very high risk. It is very hard to tell the future or sex of the koi even by the best breeders. Tategoi at this stage can run upwards of a $1,000 and I have seen some sold for $10,000.

My friend Masaru Saito, Shintaro Koi Farm, produces about 100,000 Sanke fry. 2,000 tategoi are kept after the first 3 months. By 7 months this number is reduced to 1,000, then before the 1-year age mark, they are reduced further to just 200, so that $1,000 to $10,000 tategoi might just end up as a cull. Saito says that only 20% of koi after the first 3 months become tategoi, and only 1% or less will stay on to become tategoi after the first year. I usually recommend against my customers buying them unless they truly understand the risks.

At the age of nisai (two growing seasons old) the amount of tategoi has dwindled to just about 20. It is now easier to tell the future of the koi and the sex, and the price reflects this. This does not mean the other 180 were no good. It means that there are just 20 that the breeder wants to keep for more growing on. He reckons that 20% of koi after the first cull become good tateshita, and only 1% of these become tategoi. See picture (C) for top tategoi at nisai.

Now during this whole process, the koi that are tategoi are sold as tateshita, or finished fish. Here is where it gets tricky. A good percentage of these are tategoi, but the breeder sells them off because he sees no more benefit in keeping the koi for growing on. This does not mean in anyway these koi are bad, they are just not of the top ones. I see many times in Japan when a customer wants a koi to be asukara (or kept with the breeder another year of grow out) and the breeder says no or gives a reluctant yes. This is because it is a waste of time and money to try to grow a koi that is finished; you can do that in your own pond. Do the math: you buy a koi for $1,000 at nisai, you store it for $500 one year, at sansai you ship it $500, you just paid $2,000 for a fish that is still worth $1000, not to mention all the work the breeders have to put into it so it grows and thrives.

Now, how much do you pay for top tategoi? I don’t really know, every breeder is different. If you pay $1,000 for a nisai, you can be pretty sure it is a nice tateshita. Now we have had customers pay 1.5m¥ (about $19,500) for top nisai, but this represents the top of the top. Go to a big name breeder, you can surely expect to pay more. I have heard a rumor that the top nisai from any breeder can be had for 500,000¥, but this is pure rubbish. They will always cost much more than that.

Now I have been on the Internet and seen people talking about tategoi. The truth is many have never seen a true tategoi. And somehow tateshita is a bad word to call a koi. I have many people in my shop that ask for tategoi but don’t want to pay more than $250. It does not exist. What does exist are many levels of tateshita. I have seen high-class tateshita develop into better koi than what the breeder kept as tategoi, but they too cost a good amount of money.

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