What is changing in Japan?
Over the last 10 years the Koi industry has changed in a massive way.
There used to be seasons for most Koi breeders in the year. They used to start in February selling small tosai which will end up in dealers’ shops all over the world.
Then there was April time when dealers and hobbyists went to Japan to try and buy the best jumbo Tosai after the breeders have selected the Koi they want to grow during the summer.
Then there were the big Autumn harvests, which is the trip we have just come back from. This is where the Koi that were put out in the mudponds to grow, get harvested.
Nothing has really changed regarding these 3 seasons, not for us anyway. The climate we have in the UK means that we sell many Koi in the warmer months so the Feb, April and then the October harvests work well for our climate.
Dealers buy the Tosai in feb and they have them ready for around Easter to start selling, then maybe the more specialized dealers like ourselves also do very wel with the Jumbo Tosai. Then the harvests come and many of our clients want to buy some special Koi which are best in October, fresh out of the mudponds. So, for us, it works, and it works well.
However, there is a massive Koi industry outside of our small industry and this is changing the way many breeders now work in Japan.
Countries like Thailand, Taiwan, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam are now massive within the Koi industry, and…they are buying Koi 365 days a year! Japan is fairly close to these countries and dealers and hobbyists can fly over with ease. They can fly in the morning and be in Japan at lunch!
There are probably 100 breeders in Niigata that now sell Koi all year round. That’s massive compared to how it was.
So, this has changed how many breeders now work in Japan. Gone are the days of having empty Koi houses when the Koi are in the mudponds. Many breeders are fully stocked, the main ones anyway, and now even some of the smaller ones are following suite. I spoke to a few breeders about this and they are looking to start selling Koi all year round.
Around 4/5yrs ago maybe I remember walking into one of the main breeders in Niigata, Dainichi. They now keep some of their Koi indoors all year round. It probably happened before this and at many other breeders, but I just never thought it would happen any other way than the way I knew. However, when I saw this, and it registered, then I started seeing at more and more places.
Matsunosuke also does this now. Not all his jumbo Koi go into the mudponds at all. They are kept in big concrete ponds and fed with an autofeeder all year round. You see it more and more as you go into some of the breeders. They already have Koi in ponds with Autofeeders and you know they haven’t been in the mudponds. I even saw it this year with smaller Koi.
Now I understand that once a Koi has grown to a certain size, and the pattern has developed to how it should have done, then yes, it makes sense to keep the Koi inside. I asked Toshi down at INC about this and he said it’s easy to look after the jumbo Koi in concrete systems. They can check on them and see how they are feeding; they can make sure they are getting the best care every day. They may not grow as much as in a mudpond but when a Koi is 90cm its isn’t going to grow at the rate of say a 60cm Koi.
I spoke to breeders this trip and asked them if they would do the same if they had the facilities to do so and they all said yes.
They also keep the Koi inside because it’s safer, and because of Koi shows. They can keep an eye on them better, they can condition them better.
Matsunosuke harvests his Koi in Niigata, even though he around 200 miles away in Isawa. He still has a house in the Niigata mountains. He brings all his Koi back to this house, then he trucks them all back to Isawa.
I visited INC around a week after they had trucked all the Koi back there. We have a very high class Sanke which has been growing with INC for 2 seasons now. She is superb. So, when I arrived, I walked up to some of his massive concrete systems, I noticed an autofeeder because it was going off and feeding food into one of the ponds. I looked in the pond and saw 6 Koi, that’s all, 6. I noticed one of the 6 Koi was my clients Sanke and there she was feeding away. I asked about her and was told they will also get good growth on her over the winter. They will look at her growth next Spring and make a decision to either keep her in concrete or take her back out to the mudpond.
Shintaro told me that Koi in concrete are easy to control. Especially if the breeder and the customer want to take the Koi to a show. Mudponds are great but they cannot always condition a Koi for a Koi show, think about it. People in the UK have set plans before going to a Koi show. You have to condition them for that purpose. Some breeders in Japan even keep Nisai away from Mudponds because they want to show them at Young Koi Shows, the breeders condition them for that purpose. The concrete ponds will hold the colour much better than mud ponds. we have seen so many times when you harvest a Sanke or Showa, then look at them 5 days later and they can look a different Koi!
This is happening all the time at many breeders all over Japan.
Obviously, my story about my clients Sanke was just an example of what I saw. Breeders now have pretty much an open season. They can sell Koi all over throughout the year, and they are doing in big amounts.
Why miss out on sales when there are dealers from these countries who can sell all the time. Makes sense now that Japan is becoming an all year-round business.
There have always been outlets to buy Koi at any time of the year, probably around 4 or 5 that I knew off. We supply Koi to many dealers in different countries and on a few occasions, I have bought Koi in July time and then made a shipment direct to the client. This year actually was one of the times this happened and even though I didn’t go to Japan the pictures I was getting back from the breeders were plentiful. There were no problems finding what I needed. There are now up to 100 Breeders all selling Koi 365 days a year in Niigata.
Now again, another difference I noticed in Japan this year were how many new Koi houses had shot up, and how many new Koi houses are planned to go up! Breeders in Japan are probably moving more Koi than ever before, because of these far east countries and just countries that have warmer climates. The breeders also want to be able to sell more Tosai. So they can build new Tosai houses and have Tosai available for sale in September. This means they can breed more Koi, and of course sell more Koi.
I asked a breeder about feeding the Koi through the winter and he said they were building a new Koi house so they could feed their stocks all the time.
This time of year, Breeders who do not have a separate house to keep sold Koi its difficult to feed the Koi. The reason for this is because in a 2 day notice they will have to ship those Koi to the clients who bought them. They get little notice and Koi cannot be fed before shipping.
Of course, some of the lucky breeders who have sold koi houses can feed all year round. I went on a parent Harvest this last trip, they were moved into a different house, away from the main stocks. The day after we harvested those Koi there was an auto feeder on the pond, feeding. When the shipping is done, then the breeder can start feeding. He has to, because people want to come in and see the stocks.
This injection into the industry is building the industry like never before. Some breeders who always sell out this time of year, have still got stocks, not because they could not sell them, but because they bred more Koi due to the fact they sold out. They need more stock to satisfy the new market.
It’s very exciting watching it unfold. It’s amazing speaking to some of the breeders who are looking at things very differently than I ever expected them to be. They are really thinking into the future. I remember when the internet became available in the area, way after the Earthquake. I remember some of the breeders looking at it like it was some kind of witchcraft! Now they all have it. They are never off their phones…
To me, the industry is evolving again in Japan, and it’s fascinating to watch, and even better to be a part of it!