When travelling through Niigata in search of koi to bring back to the UK, it’s not long until you discover the infrastructure that works behind the scenes to meet the world’s insatiable demand for world-class koi. Along the meandering roadside, painted signs that try to outshine the koi they advertise, describe the varieties of koi in which each specific breeder specialises.
So complex are some of the genetic factors involved in breeding specific varieties of koi that the majority of breeders opt to specialise in one variety or lines that are closely related genetically.
We can easily overlook the hard task that koi put their breeders through, with many factors in addition to fundamental genetic issues conspiring against producing koi of the size, quality and colour that we expect almost by rights to come from Niigata.
The external beauty of koi is controlled by the genes that each koi inherits from their parents. The way that these genes interact means that it is far more likely for breeders to produce an undesirable koi with poor pattern and colouration, resulting in large numbers of low-grade koi being culled at a very early age. In order to improve both the quantity and quality of desirable koi worthy of the Niigata name, breeders have had to concentrate on single varieties with a view to stabilising their characteristics and establishing reliable bloodlines.
One key approach used by Niigata breeders to stabilise the desirable characteristics of their chosen variety is to cross very closely-related fish that share similar characteristics. Over many generations, the frequency of offspring with specific desirable characteristics increases (often with idiosyncratic characteristics to that breeder) enabling breeders to produce consistently better quality koi that meet their own specific criteria. In this way, bloodlines are named after breeders who selected and stabilised them, some of which can be as famous as the variety itself, carrying with them an added premium.
Genetically speaking, the more challenging varieties are the complex varieties such as Kohaku, Sanke and Showa, and those breeders that consistently produce high grade specimens are generally held in higher esteem than say the breeders of the less complex metallic lines such as Purachina and Yamabuki.
The genetic obstacles against producing high grade Purachinas are not as severe or complex as those of Go Sanke, making them easier to ‘perfect’ than the complex varieties. This is not to take anything away from the legendary expertise of the breeders of Niigata as all varieties present their own challenges. What is clear though, is that every time we buy a Niigata koi, we are not only paying for the cost of an individual koi, but also the generations of expertise and hard work that were required historically to produce a koi of that quality today. Certainly a price worth paying.
were required historically to produce a koi of that quality today. Certainly a price worth paying.