A look into Japanese “Koi” or more as they are commonly known as, “River Carp”, will lead you toward a fascinating look into the mythology and character of the Japanese people. Pre 1820’s in Japan carp were the perfect choice of protein in the diet of Japanese people who lived near rivers. Unfortunately many rivers freeze over during the winters and the carp were unavailable. The industrious farmers began to build barrels in their barns where the Carp could be stored during the winters. They only had to go outside to the barn to collect a plump carp for dinner on a winters evening.. The larger the barrel the longer this delight lasted through winter. As the barrels grew the carp, who were well fed and cared for, began to mate. Eventually giving out spawn that were albino or oddly marked.
Magoi or black carp are the most common form same as the carp we find in American rivers. When the Japanese witnessed the odd coloration of these captive carp they began to keep them as pets. Eventually the odd fish were left in the barrels long into spring and began mating with each other. The process became codified and the first known carp coloration bred specifically for it’s color was a “Kohaku” or orange stepped Koi. The body became white and there were three, four or five blotches of orange across the fish from head to tail. These orange patches mimicked the stones found in formal Japanese gardens. Which are placed so that woman in a tight fitting Kimono could easily step from one stone to the next. The peasant farmers began to compare and compete openly with each other on this amazing feat of transforming the lowly carp to something dazzling. Soon catching the eye of the aristocracy of Japan. Who quickly adapted the process and took it out of the hands of the farmers. Breeding for specific colors and patterns has been active since the 1820’s or so creating the current international market for landscape decor and international high dollar competitions for decorative koi. Many new patterns Koi have since been bread and a Japanese champion koi can cost well over $50,000.00 each.
THe mythological version of this simple creature is just as fascinating
HOW KOI BECOME DRAGONS
In the wild, koi are cold fresh water river fish who gain strength by swimming against currents.
Many years ago, in a time before recorded history, a huge school containing thousands of koi swam up the Yellow River. Observers reported the colors of their well muscled bodies flashed in the sunlight making them seem like a million living jewels. All was going well until the koi reached a waterfall. Immediately, a large number of them grew discouraged and turned back, finding it much easier to simply go with the flow of the river. Yet, a determined group of 360 koi stayed on. Straining and leaping, each koi strove to reach the top of the falls. Again and again they flung their bodies into the air only to fall back into the water. All this splashing noise drew the attention of the local demons who laughed at the efforts of the struggling koi. Adding to their misery, the demons sadistically increased the height of the falls. Still the koi refused give up! The koi continued their efforts for one hundred years. At last, with one heroic leap, a single koi reached the top of the falls. The God’s smiled down in approval and transformed the exhausted koi into a SHINING GOLDEN DRAGON- He joyfully spends his days chasing pearls of wisdom across the skies of the vast and eternal heavens.
Whenever another koi finds the strength and courage to leap up the falls, he or she too becomes a heavenly dragon. The falls have become know as the Dragon’s Gate and, because of their endurance and perseverance, koi have become symbolic of overcoming adversity and fulfilling one’s destiny.
Swimming koi became symbolic of worldly aspiration and advancement.
Koi fish are associated with positive imagery. Because of the dragon legend, they are known as symbols of strength and perseverance, as seen in their determinative struggle upstream. And because of the lone koi that made it to the top of the waterfall, they are also known as symbols of a destiny fulfilled. Resulting from its bravery in swimming upstream, the koi is oftentimes associated with Samurai Warriors in Japan. The integrity and high sense of character koi are known for makes them a popular tattoo choice both in Asia as well as America.
The koi is known for its strength, individuality, character, and perseverance.
Koi fish are also symbolized according to their coloration. Black koi represent masculinity. It also signifies a patriarchal role. Gold koi symbolize prosperity and wellbeing in business. Blue koi, often associated with the role of the son, represents tranquility. Red koi represent strength and power. It also is recognized as the matriarchal koi.
Tattoos of Koi are very popular around the globe and thousands of people who wear them are quite uninformed on their origins, meaning, and symbolism.
I though you might enjoy seeing my three versions of the “DRAGON KOI” all are watercolor renderings. Each is available for sale; as original paintings, digital prints and tattoo commissions!
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