Language is such a wonderful thing. On one hand, it has the ability to convey ideas, concepts and situations in a fashion that surpasses any other medium. On the other hand, it can also be the source of confusion, frustration, and misunderstanding.
When one visits the breeders and dealers in Japan, many of the most beautiful koi on display at their establishments are often described as azukarigoi. When pressed for a translation, the most frequent reply is simply “Customer’s fish”, a reply which in most cases quickly ends the discussion.
The word azukeru, means to place something into the care of someone, and azukaru means to have something placed in one’s care. Thus azukarigoi refers to a koi that has been placed in the care of the dealer or breeder.
Just as horses are often boarded with the breeder or trainer here in the United States, koi are often boarded with koi dealers and breeders in Japan. Horses are boarded with horse trainers in the hopes of having the trainer help the horse achieve their full potential, whether it be in the arena or on the race track. There can be a number of reasons for boarding koi with a professional facility, but most commonly, one would board their koi with a breeder in the hopes that the superior experience, care and environment provided by the breeder, would give their koi the best chance of reaching it’s full potential.
The Grand Champion of the 2005 All Japan Combined Koi Show is an excellent example of why one would want to board a koi with a breeder on an ongoing basis. Ultimately, the arrangement benefits both the breeder and the owner. The owner is assured that their koi will receive the highest level of care and attention and that their koi will have the optimum environment for growth, and finishing. As a matter of fact, a breeder will often agree to sell some of his most promising tategoi if he knows that the buyer will continue to board their purchase at the breeder’s farm.
The breeder benefits by being able to witness, on a continuing basis, the growth and development of a high quality koi that he has bred. This can provide invaluable insight into refining and developing his bloodline. Occasionally, a breeder will ask a client’s permission to use a particularly high quality (or high profile) azukarigoi in the farm’s breeding program. There is no fixed and fast rule in these cases, but the client is often given “pick of the litter” in return for their participation. Some breeders have even been known to buy back azukarigoi from their clients for use as brood stock.
Purchasing a premium jumbo tosai in the spring and boarding it with the breeder is a popular way that many hobbyists enjoy koi. Boarding in Japan can be expensive, but usually turns out to be well worth the money if one starts out with the right koi. Jumbo tosai purchased at 14-15” in the spring can grow to well over 20”, sometimes up to 24” in just one growing season! Breeders know their stock strengths and limits and can usually achieve amazing results in just one or two growing seasons. Breeders will often agree to sell tategoi that they would normally hold, if they know that the owner will board the koi for a few years. This allows the hobbyist the chance to own an extraordinary koi for a lot less than it would cost as an adult. It also allows the breeder to grow and groom the koi to its full potential before unleashing it onto the show circuit.
Case in point is the Grand Champion Maruyama Showa of the 2005 All Japan Show. This koi was sold as a jumbo tosai for the paltry sum of $2500! Granted that the boarding fees have added a lot more that the original purchase price over the years, it’s still a far cry from the $170,000 that was paid for the runner-up contender that was purchased as an adult!
Different breeders are known throughout the industry for their rearing skills in different areas. Whereas Sakai of Hiroshima is known for his proficiency in raising immense Jumbo koi in a relatively short period of time, Ikenaga of Fukuoka is known for his expertise in deepening the reds on koi that have been placed in his care. Momotaro of Okayama has an excellent record for finishing Kohaku in his massive concrete pond, and the waters of Isawa in Yamanashi are known for finishing Showa.
October is an exciting time for those of us who have azukarigoi boarding in Japan, as that is when we get to see how our koi fared over the growing season. More often than not, we are delighted with the development that has taken place under the care of a master koi keeper. Increase in size, development of body conformation, improvement of beni, sumi and luster are all anxiously anticipated.
There being no perfect world, koi owners are sometimes disappointed with the results of the year’s growth or become otherwise disillusioned with their koi. Occasionally, the owner may fall in love with another (and usually more expensive) koi and will ask the breeder to take the azukarigoi in partial trade. Although the breeder may not be in a position to take the azukarigoi in trade, he will often agree to broker a sale to a third party on a consignment basis.
The truth of the matter is that just because a koi is an azukarigoi or “customer’s fish” does not necessarily mean that it is not available. So if you are a koi lover who has been smitten by love at first sight only to be told she belongs to someone else, don’t give up without a fight. Remember, all’s fair in love and koi.