Have you ever used a remote-controlled toilet or been diving with koi? These are the sort of unexpected challenges we were confronted with in Japan!
We went to Japan for the Japanese koi breeders, most of whom live in Niigata Prefecture, about 300 km north of Tokyo. We wanted to know what the Japanese do better than the rest of the world, because Japanese koi are the most expensive fish on our planet. Firstly we noticed that Japanese trains do everything better than German ones. The average train delay NATIONALLY is just 3 minutes - PER YEAR! Then they go almost twice as fast as ours. Maybe the Japanese should take over Schönefeld Airport in Berlin.
From Nagaoka station we took a car to Ojiya, deep into the eastern mountains. There you just need to follow the road and you’ll come across names to make the pulses of koi enthusiasts from Canada to South Africa race: Kaneko, Yagenji, Miyatora, Izumiya and countless more. Small and large greenhouses line the street. One koi breeder lives door on door to the next. In Germany, they would have sued each other or chased each other away. But not in the “land of smiles”. These guys are even friends with each other! From April to autumn, the koi live outside in natural ponds that were once rice fields. What these ponds lack in size, they make up for in frequency. Koi breeder Sakai alone owns 900 ponds, and while he is one of the best, he is far from the biggest. Koi in Japanese natural ponds have so much room to swim in, think single goldfish in an indoor swimming pool! That's why the Japanese don't have to feed their koi outside. In autumn, the natural ponds are then emptied and they can see how beautifully the animals have developed. The koi are then moved to the covered, temporarily air-conditioned indoor facilities. They can swim in clear water for the first time there, but they don't get anything to eat until they start their long plane journey to all four corners of the world.
This is not a problem, however, because their body shape has begun to ressemble a puffer fish. They have been feeding on small crustaceans, microfauna and algae all year - and not on plants, which they would eat but do not find in natural ponds. Young tosai (one-year-old koi) are fed regularly when kept indoors, as is necessary for all young animals in the animal kingdom. The large koi, which are either not sold or are reused for breeding, are fed in the same way. Even though Japanese koi breeders are not biologists, they have learned over decades and centuries which food for koi leads to perfect results, healthy fish and few losses. The protein/fat ratio of the feed forms the basis for this. A spring feed needs to be composed differently from an autumn feed, and with carotenes in colour feed it depends very much on whether you use cheap canthaxantin or expensive asthaxantin. The only thing they haven't thought about is summer food – because they never need it.
We really wanted some underwater pictures of the koi. After full body and camera disinfection, the time had come. In cold water of about 11 °C, with koi up to 80 cm long and in the fish density of a shoal of sardines, we were given the opportunity to take our first professional underwater photos in the koi facilities of Japan's best breeders - what an experience! By the end I had one particular wish: a photo, half above - half under water, with the breeder feeding from above and the koi eating under water. Yasuaki Kaneko was the first to feed the new JBL ProPond food range to his magnificent koi. He is now so enthusiastic about this seasonal concept food with suitable protein/fat ratios that he orders it regularly in Germany. Well, at least we make better koi food than the Japanese!