At one time, koi fish were just regular carp. Carp were originally domesticated and bred for the purpose of food. Over time, carp owners discovered that they could breed specimens with certain mutations together; and by doing this many times over several generations of carp, they could change things like the color of the carps scales and the shape of their fins.
One thing that made the common carp easy to domesticate was that it is a cold water fish and can adapt well to different temperatures. This was why they could be transported and bred in nearly any part of the world. The koi fish saw its origin in Japan, although carp were being domesticated in Asia long before.
A relative to the koi, the goldfish; was created through selective breeding in China over a thousand years ago. This helped lay down the knowledge that such selective breeding could occur.
Around the 1820s is when the koi fish got their start; it was during this time that carp were first selectively bred to favor certain colors over others.
Over a hundred years time, enough selective breeding had occurred to establish a few basic types of koi. During this development period, koi were relatively unknown even in Japan. It wasn’t until 1914 that people started to become aware of them and their popularity started to spread throughout Japan.
It would still be some time before keeping koi became a hobby around the world. While many types of koi had been established in Japan, transporting them elsewhere safely proved to be somewhat difficult. Transporting live aquatic creatures from one location to another has a variety of complications ranging from keeping the water pure to trying to maintain temperature.
While koi fish can adapt to different temperatures easily in terms of settling into a new environment, a sudden spike in temperature will kill most fish.
The koi spreads across the globe
So while the imagery of koi was starting to become well known, it wasn’t until the 1960s that they could actually be kept around the world. A few key inventions helped with this turning point. Polypropylene bags helped keep the koi alive during travel, and jets made it more practical to transport the koi from one location to another.
From that point onward, koi fish have exploded into popularity around the globe. There are now over 200 different types of koi with over 20 recognized and named types. Today they are kept in 6 of 7 continents. New breeds are constantly being introduced, some even cross bred with other types of fish. Some that are so unique; there is debate whether they actually qualify as true koi.
The koi fish gets its name from the Japanese word meaning ‘carp.’ While the word ‘koi’ simply refers to all carp in Japan, the word ‘nishikigoi’ is used to define the uniquely colored carp that we refer to as ‘koi’ in western culture. The word nishikigoi translates to “brocaded carp” in Japanese.
The koi fish is a sign of friendship in Japan. The imagery of the koi fish has become one of tranquility and peace around the world.