The Unlikely Beauty of Aragoke

Published on April 27, 2024

aragoke varieties

For hundreds of years, breeders have developed many varieties and improved the beauty of koi through friendly competition. Golden corn and Aragoke are the most unique and newest creations in recent years. I would like to share what I found out about Aragoke from the creator, Mr. Toshinobu Ikarashi of Ikarashi Koi Farm.

Farm Beginnings

Ikarashi Koi Farm is a very well-established koi farm in Niigata, Japan. Mr. Kazuto Ikarashi founded the farm in 1960s. His koi have won many prizes, including Grand Champion at Nogyosai (All Niigata Breeders Koi Show). He aimed to breed more beautiful koi that can win at koi shows. Ikarashi was a top brand name of Gosanke.

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When Toshinobu, Kazuto’s son and the farm’s second owner, took over, he slowly shifted the direction of the farm.

“I do not set my sights on koi shows,” Toshinobu said. “Those koi bred for koi shows in mind will reach its peak early like 10 years. I see koi more as pets to enjoy, and so I want to breed koi that can grow big and beautiful and last long. I believe that is how koi breeding and my job should be, in my opinion.”

Tipping the Scales

Taro Kadama and Toshiobu Ikarashi
Taro Kodama with Mr. Toshinobu Ikarashi

Aragoke means rough scales that appear on Doitsu varieties. They were also called Ishigaki. Breeders did not like them on Doitsu because those scales ruin the beauty. The colors on leather skin and on the scales look different. So, breeders have tried to remove those Aragoke from Doitsu varieties. It is no exaggeration to say that the history of Doitsu development is the history of removing Aragoke.

Aragoke is bad. That is how I was taught and how I have been buying koi. So, when I first saw Aragoke at Ikarashi Koi Farm several years ago, I was shocked. Koi full of big scales was the last thing to expect! Koi that I saw there were supposed to be ugly, according to what I learned, but these were attractive. I could not get my eyes off them!

Most breeders would not even think about developing a variety with something they hate, but Toshinobu did. He saw something there. How did he come up with this idea?

He is a fish lover. He is a professional koi breeder, and at the same time, he is an aquarium hobbyist. One day, he put these koi in an aquarium. To his surprise, it was not bad. As he watched the koi in the aquarium, he found out that Doitsu varieties look better because they have patterns on the side. Usually, koi are designed to have patterns on the top, because we keep them in a pond. He decided to breed Doitsu Hikari mono (scaleless metallic koi) such as Kikusui, so people can enjoy koi in aquariums. However, those varieties do not come with the body genetically. They do not grow big. That is where his challenge started.

Inducing Demand for Aragoke

Toshinobu wanted to breed Doitsu that could keep eating and grow big. He obtained a female Doitsu Ochibashigure from Maruhiro Koi Farm. He looked for a male Doitsu, but he could not find the right one. So, he crossed a male scaled Ginrin Ochibashigure and a male scaled Kogane Ochibashigure. The pair created interesting koi. Upon sorting, he kept only those with Ginrin and big scales. In the fall after the harvest, they came out with surprise.

As expected, Japanese dealers did not care for them. On the other hand, however, foreign dealers raved about the koi. Interestingly, even Japanese women who were not even hobbyists called them cool and said that they had not seen anything like this.

“It was an eye-opening experience for me,” Toshinobu said. “That was when I decided to work on Aragoke more seriously.”

It has been 10 years since he started breeding Aragoke. More customers found them interesting, fortunately. The majority of customers are still from Europe.

“I have a few dealers in Asia and the United States,” he said. “They do not seem to be interested yet. In the U.S., only Kodama-san of Kodama Koi Farm carries some of my Aragoke.”

Breeding Creed

We seldom see Aragoke at koi shows. Not only because the production is very small, but also because Toshinobu do not breed Aragoke with intention of competing at koi shows.

“I do not care if my koi win at koi shows or not,” he said. “I would rather breed koi that more people can enjoy as a pet. I want my koi to grow big, stay beautiful and live long.”

Show-quality koi are beautiful, but they reach their peak in around 10 years, according to Toshinobu. Knowing the legend of his farm and his talent, I am sure he can breed very good show-quality koi if he wants to. But he does not do so. He wants to breed koi that everyone can enjoy. He takes a different approach to the cause of the industry.

“If we stayed and played within koi shows, the market would not grow,” Toshinobu said.

Toshinobu was successful in developing a new variety, but he is still struggling with the quality and the stable supply.

“I want good Ginrin. I want more colors. I want an Aragoke version on other varieties,” he said. “I still cannot predict and control the size and locations of scales by breeding yet. If I can breed more Aragoke at a certain quality consistently, I can lower the price. Then, more people can enjoy Aragoke at affordable prices.”

Mr. Toshinobu Ikarashi is not an ordinary breeder. He loves what he does. He has a different vision from most of the breeders in Japan. That is probably what he could get out of the box and explore potentials of Japanese koi.

Carp was food. Carp became koi, and the food became art. Behind the history, I am sure there was always someone like Toshinobu who approached art in untraditional ways. For sure, without them, we would not enjoy the beautiful koi that we have today. I hope more hobbyists see and enjoy Aragoke in the United States.

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2 thoughts on “The Unlikely Beauty of Aragoke”

  1. Thank you! We love this variety, have six of them. We even built a second pond for them. We have been looking for information and history on them.

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