Japanese Koi and Gardens

It’s hard to believe that two weeks ago, the pond builder and I were just starting our trip in JAPAN! We had a wonderful vacation visiting extended family in Hiroshima, seeing some iconic sites and a little bit of koi as well. This is the time of the year that everyone starts trekking to Japan for harvests, local koi shows and purchasing koi. Maybe another year we will do that.

 

in Hiroshima we spent our first full day climbing Mount Misen on Miyajima. The proper name is Itsukushima and the “floating” Torii is a world heritage site. We started relatively early and the climb was pretty strenuous. I ended up straining my knee and spent the remainder of my trip a little bit gimpy. However it did not stop us from walking 6-12 miles a day.

The famous tori to Miyajima Island

On the way up the mountain there was a little pond with some very large and hungry koi.

a few koi on our way up Mount Misen
At the top of Mount MIsen, a sacred mountain on the island of Miyajima, you can see the Shikoku mountains four to five times a year. We were blessed with beautiful viewing conditions the day we climbed.

 

 

Hiroshima’s baseball team is the Carps and they are heading to the Japan series. I find it amusing that they actually use the English word – carp – rather than a Japanese translation.  They play in the Hiroshima Mazda Zoom-Zoom stadium 😂.  The castle in Hiroshima is decorated with carps on the roof tiles and is known as the Carp Castle. While Niigata seems to be the area we think about for nishikigoi, there are many major breeders in the Hiroshima area.

Hiroshima Castle – also know as there Carp Castle
koi decoration on the roof
Koi on the Hiroshima Castle grounds

 

No one in my extended family are into koi keeping but I have an uncle who has been a long time bonsai hobbyist. He has many beautiful specimens around his garden, He’s also an avid fisherman and hunter. When we visited with them we also discovered some of his other cool hobbies- woodworking and preserving game – his work demonstrates great talent

My uncle loves his bonsai garden, He has many bonsai that he has cared for over 40 years. I asked him which one might e his favorite and he pointed this one out. So graceful and the detailed base is amazing.

 

In Japan, we visited many gardens. I am so envious of the more mild climate. Japanese gardens are fascinating and so many little details to see. We loved the path variations, mossy carpets, bridges and islands in the water. The gardens reminded you of a miniature version of Japan. We would love to have an island in our pond which the pond builder said we could do by pouring a concrete post.

Shukkein, Hiroshima – next to the Hiroshima Art Museum embodies so many characteristics of Japanese gardens. We loved the islands created in the water.
thick carpets of moss

Almost every garden we visited had koi. The first gardens we visited had very colorful koi but some of the others had the dull brown and black koi. Regardless of color, all of them were clearly used to being fed by visitors.

Shukkein, Hiroshima, Japan – lovely koi in the garden

 

While seeing a koi farm was not on our list, it seemed like a shame to be in Japan and not visit at least one. I reached out to Takahiro Omosako and he kindly spent a few hours with us at Omosako Koi Farm. Takahiro picked us up at Hiroshima Station and drove about 40 minutes to the east and into the hills. The main farm consists of number of greenhouses with ponds for tosai, oyagoi, koi coming in from the mud ponds, etc.  We were hoping to pick out a goshiki or kujaku but the grade of koi we were looking for was still out in the mud ponds. I did see a few koi that had come in from the ponds and they were beautiful. Couldn’t post their photo though since even their owners have not seen them. I really loved a large kanoko koi and maybe someday my budget will stretch that far. Takahiro said the mutation is really uncommon with maybe only one really good one a year. The koi I loved would sell for above $10,000.00 right now. The pond builder took a fancy to another cool koi, also owned by someone else…a Tancho kujaku, but the Tancho part was white.

Main visitors ponds – doing some minor repairs before the visitors start coming.
Oyagoi pond – they are huge!

Work on the koi farm is pretty demanding. Takahiro’s brother was busy photographing some koi. The koi seemed very cooperative and it turns out they give them something like Valium for koi. His father was out visiting each of the mud ponds which takes him at least half a day. The mud ponds are scattered all over. Takahiro generally works twelve hours a day tending to the koi. All of the koi look very healthy in the greenhouse tanks and we asked if they ever had health issues. The answer was “no, we’re professionals.” At Omosako Koi Farm they feed the koi JPD and Saki Hikari. Pond builder asked if they fed anything special to enhance sumi. The question was deflected politely and the pond builder is certain there is some trade secret. The greenhouses are maintained at different temperatures depending on what’s in the ponds.

One of the many tasks, photographing the koi – the koi are lightly sedated to keep the relaxed during the photo shoot.
one of the koi houses, Omosako Koi Farm
Takahiro Omosako, great host, answered 90% of my questions but some secrets are closely held at Omosako Koi Farm 😂

While most of the ponds are far away, we did drive out to the closest one which held 70 nisai shiro utsuris The koi seem to have a pretty good life lazing around.

one of the Omosako mud ponds

While I’m sorry to miss out on picking out a new koi, we have an order in for something special when the Omosako ponds are harvested.

 

After Hiroshima, we traveled to Kyoto and visited a number of shrines and gardens. Here the koi were not so pretty but the gardens were beautiful. Some of the trees were beginning to change colors and you could imagine what it might look like in the fall. Many of the plants are tended to and trained like large scale bonsai. Some very unnatural looking but fabulous trees. Once again the moss caught my eye. Bamboo is everywhere. The pond builder loves bamboo and is always looking for a variety that might survive the Minnesota winter. In the gardens you will see that bamboo is used extensively to train the trees.

Tenryu-ji, Kyoto, Japan
if only I could grow a mossy carpet like this in my backyard
One of the prettiest gardens in Kyoto – the focus of an actor’s estate
Nijo Castle, Kyoto, Japan
Garden, Nijo Castle
not so pretty but still hungry koi at Nijo Castle, Kyoto
Fushimi Inari, Kyoto, Japan
random koi, restaurant, Kyoto
Kinkakuji, Kyoto
The water surrounding Kinkakuji in Kyoto.

 

Our big splurge was staying in a hot springs area. We were in the Hakone region (near Mount Fuji) and the spa we stayed in was surrounded by bamboo. While I was there I remarked to the pond builder that my skin and hair had felt soft and smooth the entire time we were in Japan. Must be why the koi do so well … soft water, probably some interesting minerals and no chlorine.

Hakone, Japan
We stayed at a lovely spa in Hakone. Each room has it’s own hot spring bath on the balcony. We actually thought that the water might drain into the water pictured, but it’s not the case since you can see some koi.

 

We finished our trip in Tokyo and immediately decided that a big, crowded city wasn’t our cup of tea. Niigata was not on our itinerary but since it was only two hours away by rail, we decided to head out for lunch. We stopped at the Nishikigoi museum in Ojiya and saw a little of the countryside where all the mud ponds and breeders are nestled. We also went through the 8th longest tunnel in the world on the Shinkansen from Niigata to Tokyo.

Sensoji Temple in Tokyo – very pretty ad very crowded. The nicest part of the complex was a quiet little garden complete with koi.
koi at Sensoji , Tokyo
Outside of the Ojiya train station the entrances to the underground walkway look like koi 😄
Ojiya, Japan – Nishikigoi museum. Takes only 45 minutes or so to walk around but fun to feed the koi and look at the garden.
Indoors are many large koi hoping to be fed by the visitors.

lovely koi swimming around the outdoor portion of the Nishikigoi museum

 

All of the gardens we visited had something that was blooming. The climate in Japan is much warmer than Minnesota so this can be very challenging in my garden.
I love moss and hope to have different varieties growing on my own rocks at home some day.
Outdoor koi framed by a juniper

 

While we hoped to see Mount Fuji from the ropeway in Hakone, the cloud cover made that impossible. Luckily when we saw the weather forecast for sunny skies throughout Japan, we planned our trip to view Fuji-San. We were not disappointed.

No trip to Japan would be complete without seeing Mt. Fuji. There are a number of places to get a beautiful view but we chose to head to the island of Enoshima. Enoshima is near Kamakura, about one hour south of Tokyo. There are some famous ukiyo-e paintings of Mt. Fuji seen from Enoshima. We had the perfect day to try to see what we have viewed in art. Fuji-San was spectacular. The recent snowfall completed the photo.

After seeing so many gardens in Japan, there are many new elements I would like to incorporate into my garden. Of course, it will have to wait a few months. We came home to plants killed off by the first frost and lots of leaves down. Can’t wait to start a plan for next year.