"The 'Grown On' Experience"
In mid spring each year, the Y.K.C. koi club hold their annual "Tategoi" meeting at Yoshida Fish Farms in Hachioji, where yearlings from various breeders are offered to club members. Some of the members elect to take their purchases home with them, but most of the young tategoi are sent to Yoshida's growing ponds in Niigata where they are "grown on" until mid October.
In the spring of 1994, I was delighted to be invited to participate in this event. The theme for that year was Kohaku and five show tanks were set up with Kohaku from Sakai (Hiroshima), Dainichi (Niigata), Ikenaga (Fukuoka), Matsue (Shimane) and Maruyama (Yamanashi).
To be able to see and compare Tosai (yearlings) from so many famous breeders was an education in itself. Though all of the fish were basically 10 to 11 months old, sizes ranged from 5 inch Dainichi at the small end to an unbelivable 13 inch Ikenaga at the top end. With the understanding that sexing a young is never an exact science, all of the koi had been sexed by the breeders who sent them, and were purported to be females. Prices ranged from $100.00 to $3,800.00. The colors ranged from a blood red beni with razor sharp kiwa (edges) on the Dainichi koi, to a blurry indistinct orange on the koi from Matsue which is typical of the Sensuke bloodline at that age.
At 10:00am Mr. Iitsuka of Matsue Nishikigoi Center gave a general explanation on how to select young Kohaku and some in depth pointers on each of the bloodlines that were present. At 10:30am, we were invited to stand in front of the show tank containing the koi that we intended to purchase. Naturally, the crowd was thickest around the tank containing the cherry red three step $100.00 Kohaku.
I had chosen the tank that contained the kohaku from Sakai, and had my eye on a koi that had an impeccable, albeit simple two step pattern. Although it looked a bit too red to be a young female, I thought that with a pattern like that it wouldn't really matter if it turned out to be a male. Once everyone was in position, we determined who got first pick by means of a children's game involving scissors, paper and rock. Having grown up in Japan, I considered myself an expert at this game and mustered all my childhood skills and managed to secure seventh position out of eight people. I was devastated.
I held my breath as one by one the koi were selected until finally it was my turn. I couldn't believe it but the two step that I had originally been after was still in the tank! The first photo shows the Sakai kohaku at age 11 months measuring 12 inches.
Delighted with my purchase, I elected to have it "grown on" in Niigata for the summer. I also purchased a 9.5 inch Shiro Utsuri bred by Mr. Iitsuka to keep my kohaku company during its sojourn in the mud ponds.
In the middle of August I had the opportunity to visit the actual pond in Kashiwazaki, Niigata where my koi were growing along with 120 other yearlings. The pond was about an acre in size and the water was truly muddy. When the koi were given their 5:00am feeding the water literally boiled with kohaku, making it impossible to identify any single koi with the exception of one that had lost all it's red.
Two months and many a daydream later, I received the long awaited call. The good news was that both of the koi had been harvested in excellent condition. The kohaku had grown to an impressive 18 inches and the Shiro Utsuri was now 17 inches. The other news was that it was now apparent that my original suspicions were correct and my female kohaku was now a male.
Such is the joy of Tategoi.