To look at the history of the Koi fish, you would have to look back to its origins some 20 million years ago with the fossils of the Common carp (Cyprinus carpio). It is from this somewhat drab fish that the multi-hued and prized Nishikigoi (Brocaded carp) are descended.

The important distinction between Koi Fish (the Japanese translation for Carp) and Koi (the commonly used abbreviation for Nishikigoi) should be made here to address the common misconception that koi originated in China. So where it might be true that fish came from China, the “living jewels” which have adorned palace moats are recognized as being a Japanese creation.

Which subspecies (the Western Eurasian and East Asian) is true progenitor of the modern koi is a subject of scientific debate; however, the modern colorful Koi had some less-than-illustrious beginnings. It began as a domesticated and aquacultured food fish used by Chinese farmers as far back as the 5th Century BCE.

Being a hardy and adaptable coldwater fish, able to live in different water conditions and temperatures, it went a long way in guaranteeing their propagation—as well as their travel arrangements.

Origins of Koi Fish

It is commonly believed that the invading Chinese brought Koi fish for sale to Japan where it once again found itself as a protein supplement in rice paddies for farmers.

Natural mutations were recognized and acknowledged in the Chinese carp; but it was these natural mutations that caught the eye of the Japanese farmers in the Niigata prefecture. Appreciating the potential to create a more visually appealing fish, the farmers in the town of Ojiya started to cross breed the white and red varieties in the 1820s and 30s.

It was at an exposition in Tokyo during 1914 when the Koi fish first made its “splash” into popular culture. Different varieties were brought for public viewing and it wasn’t long before keeping brightly colored koi spread across Japan. The rest of the world soon followed suit. With the advent of the plastic bag, Koi fish ownership became much easier and widespread.

There are no accurate records linking the exact date of when Koi fish for sale were introduced into the U.S., but some believe it was in the 1950s when the practice of breeding them in the United States began.

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