Koi fish, nicknamed “living jewels,” can grow up to three feet long, and are considered the most iconic pond fish (and possibly the most expensive). An “award winning” koi fish can sell for over a hundred thousand dollars, but you can get small baby koi for around five dollars at your local fish store. Did you know koi are thought to be the closest animals to dragons in the modern world? Koi are also very important in both Chinese and Japanese culture. They are seen as symbols of many positive qualities such as luck, prosperity, strength, and power.
In Chinese mythology, a koi will become a dragon if it can successfully climb the rapids and waterfalls of the Yellow River in China, symbolising strength and success. The Chinese proverb, “the carp [koi] has lept through the dragon’s gate,” used when people greatly succeed and achieve their dreams. The dragon is an important symbol of power and good luck in Chinese culture.
Koi have a fascinating history, first appearing China and then blossoming in Japan. Koi is the shortened form of Nishikigoi, which means “colored carp” in Japanese. Nishikigoi is actually the national fish of Japan, they’re so popular.
Chinese philosopher Confucius first wrote about the common carp, which the colorful koi we have today originated from. His ethical teachings on respect, compassion, and tradition, lead the principles of Confucianism. According to legend, Confucius was given a magoy carp (a black common carp) from King Shoko of Ro. Confucius was so inspired by the strength and beauty of the fish, he named his son after it. Some people believe all black koi are descendants from that very magoy carp.
The Chinese introduced the common carp when they invaded Japan centuries later. The common carp were easily bred in rice paddy fields and retention ponds. The farmers noticed the color mutations and started selectively breeding the fish to be more colorful. The vibrant fish quickly gained popularity in Japan, and then earned worldwide adoration when they were used to decorate Emperor Hirohito’s moat in the Imperial palace in 1914.
The Japanese make large paper koi streamers called “koinobori,” and fly them in the air to celebrate Children’s Day on May 5th each year. Koi are known as the “warrior’s fish.” Koi swim upstream, against currents, to feed and explore, which symbolizes courage and strength. Parents hope their children will have these characteristics.
In Chinese fengshui, fish (the koi and goldfish in particular) are used as symbols of prosperity and good luck. Koi are also used as symbols of longevity because of their long lifespans (koi can live more than 30 years). The yinyang symbol is often depicted with koi fish. The yin yang symbolizes the balance of life, harmony, and happiness.
Ponds and water features are great for feng shui as well because moving water represents the healthy flow of “chi” or your energy. Adding koi to a pond and even plants add life to the chi. The golden color of the koi and goldfish are seen as attracting gold, or wealth.
The beauty and symbolism of koi have led them to be major themes in artwork including paintings, vases, bowls, and even tattoos. Many ancient Japanese and Chinese works of art depict koi fish. A koi swimming upwards represents the overcoming of obstacles, the koi is on the path to success. A koi swimming downwards has accomplished its goals.
Koi fish are beautiful additions to a pond, but also have historical and symbolic significance which makes them even more interesting pets. Koi are very smart and can even be taught tricks! Your “living jewels” that greet you each morning may even be bringing good luck, prosperity, and strength into your home!