The meaning of the word Showa as used to describe koi, refers to three-colored koi. Those colors would be Sumi (black) Shiro (white) and Beni (orange/red). Showa are one of the three most popular varieties of koi commonly bred in Japan and also one of my favorites.
I have been going to Japan for many years now to buy the koi we sell in our store. One of the people that I have a close association with is Fujio Oomo. He is a Showa breeder that breeds very high quality Showa, although occasionally he produces high quality Hi Utsuri because they come from the same parent koi.
Fujio has three pairs of parent koi or Oya-goi. He has about 20 mud ponds, five or six of these are used for first season koi or Tosai koi, 10 to 15 mud ponds are used for two year old koi or nisai koi and the rest are used for three year old koi or older and oya-goi. Tosai ponds are a different size and depth then the rest of the ponds; they tend to be shallower and smaller than the other ponds. Many of the mud ponds are neatly tucked away on steep mountainsides where zero space is wasted.
One of the reasons why the Japanese breeders produce such high quality koi is due to the small number of koi that are actually kept to grow. For instance, one of Oomo's female koi will produce 200,000 to 250,000 eggs. The hatching rate of the eggs is about 50%. So they are left with about 100,000 to 125,000 baby fry.
When you breed Showa you only keep the black fry (Kuroko) and from the 100,000 to 125,000 fry left only 50% of these will be black. So from one set of parents we are left with 50,000 to 62,000 fry that will then be culled over five times throughout the whole summer. These numbers are average for just one of Fujio' females.
From the numbers listed above Oomo will release approximately 40,000 fry into four different mud ponds in late May. These will be culled fives times during the summer until they are harvested in the early fall when there will be 2,000 left!
Here are some excerpts from an interview with Fujio on raising koi in Japan.
Mark Bodycott: Fujio, out of the 2,000 Tosai that are harvested at the end of the first season how many are Tategoi (koi with potential or promise)?
Fujio Oomo: "Every year I grow 100 pieces of only top grade Tategoi. These are the top of the top from 2,000 fishes I have kept in my green house during the wintertime. It is just 5% from my Tosai keeping stocks. It means I used 80,000 hatched koi in spring, and at first culling I have kept only 40,000 black fries out of 80,000. As a result, only 100 pieces of Tategoi will be left for the next year's growing. The percentage is just 0.125% from 80,000 hatched baby fish. This is why top grade Showa is becoming very beautiful and worthy."
I think the translation for "worthy" is expensive.
Mark Bodycott: When is the best time to visit Japan to buy koi?
Fujio Oomo: "If you wish to buy Tosai (one year old koi) then it is better to come to Niigata in early spring or middle spring. If you wish to buy two year old or older better or good grade koi or even bigger fish then autumn season after harvesting seems to be best. However some general grade koi will be always available throughout the year."
Mark Bodycott: What is your favorite Nishikigoi season? Spawning time? Culling time? Feeding during the summertime? Harvest time? Observing the koi during the wintertime?
Fujio Oomo: "Every different season gives me different excitement, joy and fun. In the season of spawning, I am very much worried about the weather every day. Because, heavy rain lowers the water temperature down and this is not good for the new eggs and small fries. For the feeding season during summer time, I sometimes sit on the bank of the pond while the koi are eating floating pellets and I watch as they come up to the surface of the water. I enjoy very much for some minutes, feeling clean, warm mountain air, with big hopes and expectations on growing koi, and I feel a calmness and tranquility from this. However there is always one thing, which gives me a headache anytime, that is the big blue heron. The existence of this bird always disturbs my tranquility. I guess this is the worldwide worry with koi! Harvesting time is the most exciting season and busiest time every day. As it is the harvest, I enjoy every second while I am harvesting with my foreign guests. Exciting very exciting. Not only the breeder is excited, but also for the foreign guests, it must be very much exciting and full of enjoyment. During the winter season after all the guests go back to their countries, I enjoy myself observing koi improvement. Sumi is coming up and red color becomes redder. Thus, the work of Nishikigoi breeding itself always gives me various kinds of fun, excitement and enjoyment."
Mark Bodycott: What are some of the characteristics that make the Oomo Koi Brand stand apart from other Nishikigoi breeding koi?
Fujio Oomo: I think there are two types of koi breeders in Japan. One is a quality breeder and the other is a quantity breeder. General grade koi are not so difficult to breed and grow. However breeding quality koi is so hard, even for the professional breeders who have a long history and experience. Although becoming a quality breeder is very hard work, I am always trying to be a quality breeder. High quality koi give me much more fun to grow and keep at the present time and in future time. Top grade koi will grow more beautiful. Top grade koi will grow bigger year by year. Top grade koi will always give big hopes and expectations for its future. This is why I would like to supply top grade Showa to the koi lovers all over the world and I really hope they will enjoy "Swimming Jewels" in their pond. I believe the breeder in quality may have a possibility to give the koi lovers a dream. And "Swimming Jewels" will give the people very much relaxation, and calm the heart of humans.
I think it is amazing from the egg to the happy customer how far the koi has to go. Hatched, kept in a mud pond for the summer, individually caught and checked over no less than five times, held in a heated pond inside a green house, individually checked several more times, and then the final selection to be sold abroad or grown in a mud pond for at least one more season. For the koi that are sold from our shop, it is a 30 hour box time from when the breeder packs it up until I unpack it at my shop. What a journey a Tosai koi has to make to get to a clients’ pond.