Choosing a Champion

It was just before my 2011 November trip to Japan that Mark Colyn got hold of me and asked me to select two special gosanke Koi from Sakai Fish Farm in Hiroshima. Of course he wanted these Koi to be able to compete at our Koi shows in South Africa.   Sensibly Mark was not prepared to spend the amount of money it would take to buy an All Japan winner.

The process of looking for a “show winning “Koi is not straight forward. One has to firstly have a very good relationship with the breeder to be introduced to such Koi and also to trust his judgement regarding how the judges will view these fish – not just on the day, but in the future when it develops.
Sakai has undoubtedly the best Sankes and Kohakus in Japan – his show record speaks for itself. So to find high quality at his farm is not too difficult, but to find it at an affordable price-remember we are spending rands now – and be confident ZNA judges will look favourably at them is not easy!
Kentaro Sakai has what many of us would consider a highly enviable job, however one has to think of  the pressure he has on him to keep producing the quality gosanke his farm is famous for, and to ensure that they keep winning at the top shows in the world.  For the prices he charges for his top end Koi, his customers have huge expectations!  Remember, there can only be one All Japan Grand Champion each year and he has a number of loyal customers all looking for this Koi, who are prepared to spend excessive amounts of money to acquire it. Needless to say he has a stressful time juggling these customers.
Regarding pricing, once a potential Koi is chosen or offered, Kentaro will have to consider:-
a) How much money the customer would be able to afford,
 b) How much could he potentially get from another customer for the same Koi?
c) How much future business will the customer potentially be bringing in, or is this a one off deal,
 d) Is the Koi going to stay at his farm and compete in Japan-more responsibility/risk and pressure for him than if it is going to be shipped?
Based on these directives I assured Kentaro San that I had already done a lot of business with Sakai Fish Farm over the last 8 years making the long journey to Japan at least twice every year. My customer was very supportive.  I was looking to keep the Koi at the farm for just one more year and while my customer would love to show the Koi in Japan, he was realistically more interested in showing in South Africa. Finally, if Sakai Koi do well in the South African shows then it means good advertising for Sakai and me for future business.
Once we had had our preliminary conversation and we understood one another, he took me to his “first class” pond. Mark had decided on going for nisai (2 year old Koi) because at this age the Koi are reasonably stable and one can judge quite accurately as to their future potential, but the cost is a lot less than an older Koi of the same quality. Here it gets very interesting because these selected Koi are all good, but they vary in price dramatically depending on certain small variables. For example, in Asia -where the vast majority of the high end dealers/customers come from – a lot of value is put on certain patterns. For example, they love maruten and “flowery”, unusual patterns.
I focused on the Koi with less “complicated” patterns. I began with the sanke. Being 3 colours it is a bit trickier to select than a Kohaku. In the Sanke I went for a Koi from a good parent and one with a strong body and skin and with pronounced sumi in the right areas. I was happy with a simple, but balanced and attractive pattern. I selected a Koi which stood out in the pond. I have to say that I chose this Koi as a “marker”, not expecting the price to be within budget. When Kentaro gave me the price I was very pleasantly surprised and immediately asked him to reserve the Koi – knowing full well that if Mark did not like the Koi/price I was more than prepared to take it as stock.
We then went on to the Kohaku.The Kohaku ended up taking a lot more time. Kentaro first presented me with his choice of Koi within the price budget, but I was not happy with his selection. In Japan it is not polite to say no outright, so one must be “subtle” in declining an offer saying something like “Very nice Koi, but can we also look at another one?” After “declining” a few offers I decided to personally select a Koi.  I chose a slightly smaller Koi, but one with an imposing body, great shiroji and soft beni. Once again the pattern was simple but well balanced, with the large front step adding to the strong looking body. The price was too high, but I then said I would consider taking both Koi at a slightly reduced price, after some deliberation and a lot of “pleading” he finally accepted. Fortunately Mark loved both Koi.
The Koi went into Sakai’s mud ponds for the summer and were harvested in Autumn-October. I received an e mail from Kentaro with pictures of the 2 Koi to say that they had both progressed really well and he wanted to offer Mark the opportunity to show the Koi in the “International  ZNA Koi  Show” in Kobe during November. Of course this was a very pleasant surprise and Mark understandably jumped at the opportunity. I made sure that my plans to visit Japan coincided with the show dates.
When I arrived in Japan about 2 weeks before the Show I went straight to Sakai and asked to see the Koi. Both fish were being kept in Kentaro’s private fish house with the other Koi selected to go to the show. In this house the water quality is superb and the fish are “groomed” for the major shows. I was very keen to see the Koi, but did not want to disturb them too much, so I just viewed them in a floating bowl. I could see straight away that they had progressed remarkably well in size and quality- especially the Kohaku, although the bigger Sanke was still my personal favourite.


I was really looking forward to the Show. On the day the weather was typically terrible with pouring rain. Sakai alone had entered 50 Koi, bought to the show in transport vats in 3 trucks. The quality of the Koi was excellent. I had no idea in which vats the Koi were, so I went through them all. It was interesting to be able to immediately notice the vats containing the Sakai Koi. The average koi’s body shape and lustre was a level above the other Koi – we are talking gosanke of course!


The first Koi I found was the Sanke. She had travelled well and was looking great, but unfortunately no prize! I felt a bit disappointed, but 70bu is an extremely competitive class and Sakai had bought a number of Sankes to the Show in this size group.
My disappointment quickly subsided when I found the Kohaku- 1st in 65bu Kohakus and 2nd overall in her size group – an amazing result!!

A stunning trophy and certificates to keep and cherish-

The next bit of “excitement” was shipping the Koi home a few weeks after the Show

Collecting the koi shipment at OR Tambo.

After that the pair had to go through quarantine at Dream Koi’s farm.

Comfortable in their 90 ton qt pond

“Betsy” rising above her Sakai pond companions.

. Fortunately the shipping and quarantining went smoothly and it was not too long and Olympia and Betsy were happily residing in Dream Koi’s 100ton indoor pond!

Great to see South Africa represented in the winners list in the Nichirin magazine-well done Mark!!