Japan Data

Koi Carp Leap from Garden Pond to the World Stage, Enjoying Popularity with Wealthy Asians

Art Economy

Japan’s export market for nishikigoi (brocaded carp) is growing.

A nishikigoi (brocaded carp) auction in Japan attracts a lot of overseas buyers. In 2018 one fish alone fetched ¥203 million.

In the twentieth century, nishikigoi could be found swimming leisurely in the ponds of houses with large gardens. While this kind of scene is no longer commonplace, especially with the increase in apartment buildings, the jewel-like fish are now winning interest from overseas.

As nishikigoi are relatively resilient to oxygen deficiency and temperature changes, a transportation method was developed in the 1960s where they could be shipped in plastic bags with an oxygen injection system. This paved the way for the start of small-scale exports by air. A boom among Japanese-Americans in Hawaii for the fish was followed by a rise in carp lovers across Europe in the 1970s.

Exports really took off from the 2000s. A slump in domestic demand prompted an expansion in sales to wealthy overseas customers. In 2019, the total value of freshwater ornamental fish exports, excluding goldfish, was ¥4.7 billion; a 2.5-fold increase over the 15-year period from 2005. By value, the largest export destination with ¥700 million was Hong Kong, followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Indonesia.

Nishikigoi have a history of more than 200 years and are said to have originated during the Edo Period (1603–1868) due to a mutation in koi carp being bred for food in the area around Nagaoka and Ojiya in Niigata Prefecture. Niigata still remains the largest production region for the fish.

(Translated from Japanese. Banner photo: © Pixta.)

Niigata trade fish