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August 12, 2021



What is a koi?

Fish Koi are a species of ornamental carp, noted as a lineage initially developed in China. But it was in Japan that a real cult of carp took place and there they have perfected and diversified almost all the varieties that have become known. Since then, they have become the ornamental fishes most widespread throughout the world.

to this subspecies they are known as tents koi, fishes koi, nishikigoi Or simply koi (Cyprinus carpio koieither Cyprinus carpio var. koi​).

Ichiryusai HIROSHIGE 1797 1858 flora and fauna79 1 Koi - Koi
Koi – carpa japonesa ornamental

A little about the history of Japanese carp

It is believed that the fish koi, is domestic ornamental variety of the common carp, are native to East Asia, from the Aral Sea to the Caspian Sea and that ornamental carp cultivation has started in China., as colored carp were mentioned in Chinese and Korean books as early as the 4th century AD.

In Japan, there are records of the existence of ornamental carp from the Yayoi Era (300 B.C. to 250 A.D.).

There are several hypotheses as to how the carp lineages developed. koi in Japan. One speaks of a multiple origin with contributions from native Japanese wild carp, another that European carp have been introduced from Germany to Japan, and a third that suggests the possibility that these carp lineages have originated from genetically modified specimens from the Asian continent.

Nevertheless, it was not until the 19th century in Japan that colored tents began to become popular.and for approximately two centuries, the improvement and diversification of fishes took place. koi, with the emergence of almost all known varieties worldwide by its Japanese name.

It should be remembered that while these lineages of precious carp were being developed in the 19th century, artists such as Katsushika Hokusai Y Utagawa Kuniyoshi who constantly portrayed them. The Ukiyo-e was increasingly successful and the horimono(traditional Japanese tattoo) gained strength and form.
Horimono - Irezumi Tebori Tattoo

The evolution of the horimono and the first professional tattoo artists

Of magician a nishikigoi / From common carp to brocade carp

In the beginning, the tents were of no particular color. and were called magicianThe term is also used for the black tents.

these fish were used in Japanese rice paddies. There they lived in the stagnant water of the crops and helped to control possible pests, since they fed on insects and larvae.

However, in northern Japan, winters are long and snowy. At that time, farmers were isolated and had few resources. So the peasants have started to feed on these fish.

Soon people realized that some of the carp were more brightly spotted or colored and were set aside in other ponds. Thus began the cultivation of koi in the zone of ojiya Y Nagaoka, prefecture of Niigata.

The farmers have started to breed only those carps that they considered the most beautiful and since then they call them "nishikigoi". Nishiki means 'something of beautiful colors' or 'brocade', and goi translates as 'tent'.

In 1914after an important exhibition in Tokyo, the crown prince Hirohito introduce the fish koi to the pond of the Imperial Palace, thus boosting carp farming.  and its presence in gardens and temples throughout the country.

From the 1950s Japanese marquees become known around the world and some copies sell for staggering figures.

Because of the fascination they cause and perhaps because of the economic value that some ornamental carps reach, the fishes nisikigoi are also known as "living flowers" or "swimming jewels".

Kodomo no Hi / Children's Day

Since Antiquity, on May 5 is celebrated in Japan as the day of the Kodomo no Hi o Children's Day. It was originally called Tango no Sekku either Shobu no Sekku and also known as Fiesta de las Banderas. It is about a national holiday to celebrate the happiness of all children and to express gratitude to mothers.

The Children's Day is dedicated exclusively to boys, while there is another holiday dedicated to girls on March 3 called Hinamatsuri. Kodomo no Hi Y Hinamatsuri are two of the five Japanese seasonal festivals known as "Gosekku". They are also Oshōgatsu (January 1), Tanabata (July 7) and Kiku Matsuri (September 9).

The Kodomo no Hi has as its emblem koi. Y tradition dictates that families hoist flags in the form of Japanese carp known as koinobori.

Kites are seen on banners all over Japan on Children's Day. koinobori of different colors and sizes: the flag largest black carp (magician) that goes on top represents the father, followed by another red tent (higoi) What is it Mother. Therefore, it hangs one for each male child with colors and positions indicating his age

The idea is to represent the energy and strength the tents have to fight against the currents and the determination they have to overcome obstacles.

The ritual of raising the flags koi nobori in the Kodomo no Hi is a form of prayer for children to find success in life.

In addition to putting up tents to swim against the wind, other equally interesting rituals are performed on Children's Day. As this is not the central theme of this post, I leave below a link to another Web who tells more about this beautiful holiday:

Characteristics of the tents koi

Caracteristicas de las carpas koi 1 Koi - Koi
Japanese landscape with ornamental carp pond nishikigoi

The physical appearance of the fish koi

The fish koi is a lineage of domestic and ornamental carp with a great capacity to adapt to all types of environments.

Tolerates a wide range of water conditionsIt can live in fresh or brackish water, with more or less oxygen, temperate or cold. In other words, it can live in fresh or brackish water, with more or less oxygen, at warm or cold temperatures.

The tents koi are so resistant that they are present on all continents with the exception of Antarctica.

They usually have from 60 to 90cm and about 9 kilosalthough the largest specimens can reach up to 120 cm and 40 kilos. They manage to live between 20 and 50 yearsalthough there are records of Japanese carp that have been much longer-lived.

Carp koi is related to the goldfish (Carassius auratus, kingyo either goldfish). clearly there is a great physical resemblanceeven though they are easily differentiated by their sizes in the adult phase, since the koi is much larger. However, even when the koi are small, they can be differentiated from goldfish by their pronounced whiskers.

The temperament of the fish koi

Fish koi are docile and socialThey like the presence of other beings.

Usually are bred in pondsThey are very large for aquariums. They may share space with other Cyprinids, such as some varieties of goldfish, and there is a chance that they will mate with these, given the right conditions. Most commonly, they share space with other Japanese tents..

So meek are the tents Koi that sometimes protrude from the water to collect food from people's hands in public parks, zoos or private gardens.

Thanks to the sympathy of the koiIt is possible that these fish are part of the happy childhood memories of many of us.

Koi in Japanese tattoo

Meaning of the fish tattoo koi

The fish Koi is one of the most notorious animals in Japanese culture and a fairly common motif in the horimono. Personifies resistance to adversity, and therefore the most common representation in the irezumi and in art in general is going up a riverswimming against the current.

There are several myths and a vast symbology related to this animal that causes so much damage to the admiration for her beauty, strength and determination. From these representative features came to be the model.

The Japanese carp represents the good luck, the happy life as a couple and the longevity. But above all, the symbolism that is most often attributed to it is the perseverance, the willpower and the willingness.
Peces Koi en Bali Indonesia Templo Madre Caroli Dilli 1 Koi - Koi
Me in Bali - Indonesia next to a temple tent tank, photo by Fidel Dueñas

Colors used for the painting of tents in tattooing

Fish koi have 13 official basic varieties and a large number of variants based on them. These varieties are mainly characterized by their different colors and scale patterns.

Any of the colors of nishikigoi for representations in art or in the field of irezumi.

Koi – carpa japonesa ornamental – historia – tatuaje – nishikigoi – colores simbología
Some of the existing colors of ornamental marquees

In traditional Japanese tattooing the tents koi The most commonly used in the compositions are three:

To represent the higoiIn the case of the reds and oranges, different shades of red and orange are used, sometimes combined with darker or lighter pigments to make them darker or more vividly colored.

As with the higoito reproduce a magician, In addition to black, different shades of gray and occasionally some light pigment are used to give it brightness.

  • nishikigoi, ornamental carp, with multicolored patterns

There is a great variety of beautiful fish nishikigoi that present spots on their body, combining two or three colors at the same time. The most commonly seen colors are red, white and black. However, there are also those with yellow, orange or blue patterns. Some are so brightly colored that they appear metallic.

The nishikigoi most commonly used in tattooing are the ones with patterns formed by white, black and red:

-Taisho Sanshoku either Taisho SankeThere are a few variants within this lineage of ornamental carp. Most of them are white with red and black spots;

- Showavery similar to the previous lineage, white with red and black spots;

- Kohakuwhite carp with red spots;

- Aka Bekko Y Hi Utsuritwo distinct lineages of red carp with black spots.

Observing the work of Horiyoshi III and other masters of horimonoIn addition to the three shades listed above, it could be said that the following shades are also very common orange tents(Orenji Ogon), the oranges with black spots (Aka Bekko Y Ki Bekko) and the yellow(Yamabuki Ogon).

This is not to say that other colors are not used. Gifu Horihide He opts for other colors that stand out in the composition as he explains in some of his books, and sometimes he paints the tents in green or blue.

Classical representations of the koi in tattooing and symbology

Gold Tent / Koi Yamabuki Ogon

The Feng Shui is an ancient system of Taoist origin based on the conscious and harmonious occupation of space. This traditional Chinese practice recommends having watertight tents or the fish representation koi at homein the form of drawings, paintings, photographs or sculptures to attract abundance, wealth and good luck.    

On the Internet I have found pages dedicated to the Feng Shui which list symbologies related to each color of carp.

Five carp swimming

The tattoo master Kazuo Oguri in one of his books mentions the GOLDEN TENTS in the Feng Shui and tattooing in order to attract gold and fortune.

Kazuo Oguri also quotes the expression "Five carp swimming".which is a homonym for "Divine Intervention". The well-known tattoo artist says that for this reason many Japanese people have in their houses representations of five fish koi gilded and that are considered especially auspicious.

Twin Tents/ Two Tents/ Koi husband and wife

It has long been known that carp are very long-lived. They usually live about 20 years, but in ponds they can double this age, and there are cases where they live a few decades longer. Hence the koi also became a symbol of longevity.  

Also japanese carp is related to love in couples.

The image of two carp swimming together, whether in tattoos or not, symbolizes a long and happy life as a couple.

This is because in the Japanese language, there is more than one word for "love". The kanji 愛 is pronounced "ai" and refers to love in all its spheres.

Ehe kanji 恋 is pronounced "koi"and refers to passionate love. In other words, the symbol for carnal love is homophone at kanji  鯉 which is used for fish koi. Because these two words sound alike, life as a couple is related to the figure of the two tents.

Black tent and red tent / Magoi Y Higoi

For depicting a pair of fish koi husband and wife with the meaning of a long and happy life as a couple, it is traditionally uses a black tent(magician) and one red(higoi). Since these colors are related to male/female and father/mother in Japanese popular culture, as seen on Children's Day(Kodomo no Hi).

According to Kazuo Oguri, the twin tents are ideal for a composition of the type munawari. He suggests the tattooing of two tents on each side of the front of the torso, and alternatively a single tent occupying each side of the chest and abdomen.

The same artist also discusses possible color variations for the red and black tents. For the red tent, orange can be used. And for the koi black, alternatively the tent could be painted green, sanshokuwhite or yellow.

my tattoos of koi

You can see here some pictures of tattoos that I have made with koi.

You may find more detailed material in the Tattoo Gallery of the web. There I dedicate a post for each tattoo and I usually upload several photos to better show the details and also tell something more about the work in question.  

My references to draw koi

Koi Pinteres Iconos del Tatuaje Japones

You can access here to my board "Koi- Japanese Tattoo Icons"from my pinterest.

The pins you will find are a selection of illustrations and tattoos by various artists, all quite representative when it comes to representing a koi

I have created it to be able to easily access these images and use them as a reference when drawing or tattooing.

They are also useful to show my clients and other interested parties who want to see a small selection of interesting references from koi .

Knowing the classic representations of a character can help when it is time to specify the idea of a possible tattoo or drawing.

About this article

There is much more to tell about the koi. This post is open to updates. I will be adding useful information and if you want, you can also participate by leaving your comment! 

I am the author of this article. I will be delighted if you disclose this text as long as you cite the source and authorship.

The sources of information used for the creation of this text correspond to the following books and pages cited.

Pez Koi - Carpa - Tatuaje Estilo Japones
Utagawa Hiroshige (1797 - 1858)
Written by Caroli Dilli
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