Japanese Buying Trip January 2015

The early hours of Saturday January 10th saw us, and 4 of our regular hobbyists, on our way to Heathrow for our latest adventure. We left the UK on time arriving at Tokyo Narita airport on Sunday lunchtime local time. The ever efficient Japanese trains were running to time so we arrived at our hotel later on Sunday.

 Thick snow was everywhere but didn’t stop us. On Monday we visited 7 of our regular breeders, Aoki, Shinoda, Hirasawa to name just a few, where we hand selected some outstanding specimens. The Aoki goshiki have stunning crimson markings. After a long and fruitful day we returned to the hotel happy and tired.

Tuesday saw us climbing to the top of the mountains where we visited Koda and Otsuka amongst others. Koda had amazing goromo so we selected 8. Otsuka had Ki Utsuri for sale so it would have been an insult not to choose a few.

Wednesday morning was spent at NNBC (Katz’s facility) where he allowed us to hand select 8 – 10 inch one year olds which we are hoping will develop into special fish. In the afternoon we moved on to Igarashi for some unique kikokuryu, which have very strong patterns.



Thursday dawned so we did a few tourist things by going to the Koi museum and souvenir shopping. We also revisited Hirasawa where we selected 3 three year olds that we think are out of this world.

Kase was another breeder that we visited that afternoon where we selected a bowlful of doitsu koi, these include sanke, showa, becko, kohaku and a kikisui.

Friday, after seeing so many stunning koi for the whole week our final boxes of fish were selected from Kaneko and Kobayashi.

 Friday also included a visit to the Dragons Gate and views of  the Niigata valley for souvenir photographs.


 On Saturday after a leisurely breakfast we made our way to  Tokyo where we spent the last night of our adventure before  flying home on Sunday 18th January.



Our special thanks go to Gary from Echigo Imports and Katz and Maki from NNBC for making this a memorable trip.

The new purchases are due to arrive in the UK on 12th February 2015 and will be available for viewing or reservation from Saturday 14th Feb.

We hand pick our fish every year in Japan, below is an article on our autumn 2011 trip to Niigata which will give you an insight into what happens when we get there and how we choose our fish.

Dragons gate autumn harvest trip.


I have been in the koi industry for almost 30 years and have been to Japan more than a dozen times.  I am the Manager of ‘Dragons Gate koi’ based at East Hanney in Oxfordshire where we have more than 30,000 gallons of water for Koi. We specialise in high quality Koi and Tanchos of all varieties.  October 2011 was my first autumn Harvest trip and I was really looking forward to seeing Niigata without a covering of snow!  All except one of my previous trips have been in January so it was great not to have to pack the wellies and thermals this time.  By the end of a fast paced week we visited more than 30 breeders and purchased some fabulous Koi.


After the flight to Narita and the Shinkansen journey, I booked into my hotel in Nagaoka along with Dave the owner of ‘Dragons Gate Koi’ and Gary from Echigo imports who would be our driver and guide for the week.  Our first task the following morning was to meet with Masaki our translator.  He would prove invaluable for the week ahead.  He lives among the breeders day in day out and has in-depth knowledge of Koi and local breeders.  His ‘inside knowledge’ was a real factor in the fish we were to buy and to know when particular breeders were harvesting the Koi we wanted, so we would be guaranteed first choice.


We had taken a chance travelling to Japan two weeks before the Nogyosai show, as we were told that generally the best week was the week just before the show.  But we struck very lucky with a lot of breeders we visited, who were harvesting fish as we were there, so we had first choice at many of the breeders facilities as some of the high quality and Jumbo fish we purchased bear testament to. Some of these fish are absolutely unique and would have been sold the next day to other dealers on many occasions if we hadn’t been able to get in first with our contacts.

On the first day we visited Kase and Nagashima (amongst others) we heard from them both that due to the unusually heavy summer rainfall they had lost more than a dozen ponds between them, due to mudslides.  These were mostly tosai ponds, they said it could affect the number of fish they have available for the 2012 season. But in my experience many of the breeders always have ‘secret’ fish houses and mud ponds, so I’m not expecting their supplies to be seriously affected next year. Nagashima is famous for his Showa in Japan but not so famous abroad. His Showa are a more traditional style and not heavy with sumi. He also produces high quality Shiro Utsuri. Interestingly his Shiro Utsuri bloodline produces females with yellow heads until they reach two years old when they change to pure white, a yellow head on a Shiro Utsuri is usually a sign of a male but not with his bloodline. Kase is well known for his Doitsu varieties and we would benefit later in the week from a phone call from him to Masaki, recommending we get to his facility fast.  He had just harvested a Kikokuryu mud pond and there were some excellent fish there.







We made an appointment a Tanaka’s for the following morning and arrived there at 9am to find we were very lucky.  The day before he had harvested a pond of large one-year-old Tancho and we were getting first choice.  I selected all the good Tancho Kohahu I could find, plus some Tancho Sanke, some stunning Beni Kumonryu and Asagi.  These fish are popular with Koi keepers on a limited budget or smaller ponds because the fish are strong.

Later that day we visited Miyatora who has been one of my favorite breeders over the years; recently he has been breeding more and more high quality Tancho.  We were looking for some three –year-old Tancho Kohaku and he didn’t disappoint us. We purchased some stunning Sansai Tancho and a high quality San-dan Kohaku along with a beautiful Doitsu Sanke.  Miyatora was delighted to sell these fish so quickly, as he had only just harvested them and was happy to pose for the customary photo!


By the third day of the trip we had made the decision to buy a Jumbo Koi as a showpiece for our ponds.  By then we had purchased a lot of Koi over 75cm but were looking for something now 95cm or more!  Two of the breeders in Niigata that I know of who usually have good stocks of koi at this size are Hirasawa and Marudoh.  Hirasawa unfortunely hadn’t harvested his Jumbo fish yet from their mud ponds, so we made the trip to Marudoh where we were told we would find a pond full of 90cm plus fish and we weren’t disappointed! The first two fish he bowled for us were a 92cm and 95cm Karashigoi.  Both fish were superb but weren’t quite what we were looking for.   The next fish he bowled really took our breath away. She was an immaculate 98cm Mukashi Ogon an old variety of Koi, rarely seen in great numbers nowadays.  Her body shape was excellent and scale pattern was perfect.  She was destined to have a new home in our ponds at ‘Dragon Gate Koi’ and the deal was too good to refuse.  We asked Marudoh if he had even bigger fish available and he said to come back on Saturday afternoon as he would have harvested even bigger fish then, hopefully as big as one meter plus.  In the afternoon we called into a small breeder called Tsuna, on the off chance he would have something unusual.  He always has beautiful pure white Purachina and sometimes, high quality Gin Rin Goshiki.  But on this occasion another variety caught my eye.  He had two-year-old Mukashi Ogons in scaled and Doitsu varieties. The very fish we had brought at 98cm earlier in the day and very unusual.  We selected a box with the intention of being able to tell our customers they could grow to the same size as our 98cm monster!


The penultimate morning of our week in Niigata saw us visit Hosokai to help him harvest a mud pond.  We had already purchased five Yonsai including a stunning 79cm Asagi from him earlier in the week we were hopeful there would be some different varieties to add to our collection.  We were told that the mud pond was high in the mountains and was plagued by biting mosquitoes so we were told to cover up as best we could.  Thirty two three-year-old fish had gone into the pond in April and they were hopeful the same number would come out, in spite of the attentions of herons, raccoons and the occasional bear!  The net was pulled through the pond twice, fortunately all the fish were still there which included some lovely Kohaku and Showa.  Unfortunately they were too small for our requirements and we left without buying anything on this occasion.




The afternoon of day four saw us go in search for Tancho Showa. They are always difficult to find but the harvest is the best time to search for them.  They are a typical ‘once they are gone, they are gone’ variety and are much sought after.  Gary from Echigo Imports suggested we try a breeder called Seijyuro.  It was my first visit to him for a number of years because he had been badly affected by the 2004 Chuetsu earthquake and he had rebuilt his fish houses on a low lying area.  Famous for Showa and Beni Kumonryu we were hopeful of some Nissai Tancho Showa and once again we weren’t disappointed.

The fish we purchased were high quality and two different styles. One I consider to be ‘finished’ with strong sumi and the other has a lot of developing sumi which I am confident will develop in our tanks at ‘Dragons Gate’. Saturday was the last day of our buying trip and Dave and I had been offered the honor of judging at the Nagaoka Koi Show.  Before the 2004 earthquake this was a relatively small show, most of the breeders who qualified as being in the area were in and around Nagaoka City.  But after the earthquake the Nagaoka area was expanded to include Yamakoshi and some other surrounding areas and far more of the well-known breeders were eligible to enter their fish.

Before the serious business of judging the fish began, Dave and I along with the other foreign judges were presented with a certificate and a smart luminous yellow judging jacket.  We were each assigned to a group of five or six people and off we went to do our duty.  The voting was done democratically but it was interesting to see the different opinions the various members of the group had on different styles of Koi and there were some heated discussions in various languages as to the best fish.


At the show a Japanese TV crew from NHK, their equivalent to the BBC approached us.  Word had spread around the show that we were looking for fish of one meter or more and they wanted to film us visiting Marudoh again that afternoon in search of it.  We arrived at Marudoh with great excitement with the TV crew in tow and he had indeed harvested a pond of fish, which were generally bigger in size than the 98cm Mukashi we had purchased previously. Unfortunately however his ‘growing on’ season had been a little disappointing for him.  So we returned to the U.K without our one meter plus fish but that will give me something to search for on my next buying trip!