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"Butterflies, Dragons & Long Fins"
By Joel Burkard/Pan Intercorp

In the twenty some odd years that I had lived in Japan I had never seen a "long fin" koi, but in 1988, I started to get inquiries from both koi keepers and koi dealers asking about "dragon carp" and "butterfly koi": koi that had long flowing fins. I was aware of the long fin carp from Indonesia, but these massive grey and brown brutes were definitely not the elegant koi that people were asking for.

It wasn't until the following year that I had my first encounter with a dragon carp at Kanoh's Nishikigoi Shop in Tokyo. It was an exquisite 18 inch platinum with fins that were at least seven or eight inches long! The proprietor, Mr. Hajime Kanoh, invited me in for tea and proceeded to give me the history of what he called "onagagoi," in English, long tail koi.

Several years earlier, a few Japanese breeders had crossed the Indonesian long fin with nishikigoi in hopes of getting back some of the hardiness and vigor that had been lost through years of inbreeding for color and beauty. The results were quite surprising, a koi that was extremely hardy, was very fast growing, and had long fins, long barbells and in some cases pompom nostrils similar to those on fancy goldfish.

Longfin Yamabuki

The appearance of these "hire naga koi" (long fin koi) caused quite a stir in the usually ultra conservative world of Japanese koi, with breeders and hobbyists competing for these suddenly coveted koi amid skyrocketing prices. The quality and popularity of the water-dragons progressed until inevitably some were entered into koi shows. At this point, the airinkai decreed that these were not koi and therefore were ineligible to be shown or judged in koi competitions.

Without the possibility of being shown, the interest in long fins declined almost overnight in Japan, leaving a few long fin ogon, matsuba and karasu scattered around the country.

When I asked Mr. Kanoh where I could secure a supply of these unique koi, I was told it would be very difficult as no one was breeding them any more. Indeed, I found this to be the case, hearing the same story from every breeder that I contacted.

Interest in butterfly koi had reached an all time low in Japan when, in October of 1991, it was announced that the Emperor Akihito was going to Indonesia on a goodwill tour and would be presenting lndonesia's President Suharto with fifty "hire naga nishiki koi" (long fin nishiki koi) as a symbol of friendship and economic cooperation between Japan and Indonesia. The photos that accompanied this press release showed some strikingly elegant shusui, asagi and even kohaku with long, flowing fins. It goes without saying that an endorsement of this nature, coming from the Emperor of Japan, catapulted the long fin koi right back into the limelight of Japanese koi keeping.

Here in the United States, there has been a steadily growing interest in the butterfly koi. At the first annual Washington Koi & Watergarden Society Koi Show, a jet black long fin karasu was awarded third place kawarimono by judges Shunichi Yoshida and Shoichi Litsuka who have also judged the All Japan Combined Nishikigoi Show. The Northwest Koi and Goldfish Club Show featured a special category for long fins this year that attracted some beautiful examples of the long fin that are becoming available these days. Rumor has it that exotic koi such as long fin akame kigoi are being developed in Japan and may be available soon. Time will tell...

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