The weekend of January 21-22 saw Koi breeders and collectors from around the world gathered in Tokyo for the highlight of the Koi calendar, the 37th All Japan Combined Nishikigoi Show.
The All Japan Combined Nishikigoi Show is held every January by the All Japan Nishikigoi Promotion Association, the professional Koi trade association and attracts simply the very best Koi in the world with over 1600 Koi entered this year ranging in size from 10cm/4" to over 1m/40" in length and with values reaching up to 6 figure sums.
The last few years have thrown several challenges at Japan's Koi breeders, particularly those from the birthplace and spiritual home of Koi in Niigata prefecture.
In November 2003, at the Koi industries busiest time, the first case of Koi Herpes Virus (KHV) was confirmed in Japan and then on October 23, 2004 the Niigata area was devastated by an earthquake, the epicentre right in the heartland of Koi production, destroying many ponds, Koi and homes, something from which the area is still very much recovering from.
The discovery of KHV in Japan has led to significant changes in the organisation of this, and all Koi shows in Japan. Historically all Koi from certain show classifications and sizes, for example all 70cm/28" Kohaku, irrespective of owner would be placed together in the same show vat in order that they could be judged in direct comparison with one another.
The mixing of Koi from different sources in this manner is no longer possible nor sensible and the now each exhibitor has their own vat. The vats have screens to prevent water splashing between them.
This year saw another significant first.
The winning Koi owned by Mark Crampton and Martin Plows.
Three years ago two English Koi keepers, Mark Crampton and Martin Plows, set out on a mission to become the first westerners to win Grand Champion at the All Japan Koi Show. To do so is not as simple as turning up at a dealer's premises and buying the most expensive Koi.
There are very few Koi capable of winning the highest honour in Koi keeping and it is only after working extremely hard at building a relationship with the Koi breeders and dealers that you will ever get the opportunity to be "introduced" to such specimens.
Having then secured a Koi with the potential for such greatness everything needs to be right on the day of the show with the koi being judged on its skin quality, size, shape, pattern and consistency of colour.
Owning a Koi such as this is different to Koi keeping as most hobbyists know it. This is rather more like owning a prize winning racehorse where the day to day care of the animal is left in the hands of professionals.
Back in 2003 Mark and Martin were introduced to a Maruten Kohaku at Narita Koi Farm in Nagoya. This Koi had been bred by Sakai Hiroshima Koi Farm, the largest of all the breeders in Japan and was tipped for greatness; Kentaro Sakai believed it to be the most perfect Koi they had ever produced. The Koi was left in the hands of Narita Koi Farm to be grown and nurtured in their very best pond.
In 2005 the Maruten Kohaku was entered in the show, where it came second.
During 2005 Mark and Martin were introduced to and purchased another Koi, again a Kohaku produced by Sakai Hiroshima Koi Farm and again with potential to achieve success at the show.
As the date of the show approached many discussions took place regarding which Koi should be entered: should they both go, which has the best chance of winning on the day?
Voting for the Grand Champion is done by secret ballot and continues until such point as one Koi achieves a majority verdict. Mark and Martin were advised that if they had two Koi both in contention for Grand Champion that there would be a risk of weakening their chances possibly allowing another Koi to sneak in with that all important majority. So, a decision was made, the newer of the Kohaku would be entered as it was considered it had the best chance of winning.
The decision, it turned out, was the correct one. On the day of judgement the Kohaku was nominated as one of five contenders for the Grand Champion prize and in the first round of voting secured 41 out of 95 votes. In the second round it achieved the all important majority vote, therefore winning by a bit of a landslide.
Mark and Martin had achieved their goal to become the first westerners to win the All Japan Koi Show. Following the victory the Koi was given the name Jessica Rose after Mark's young daughter.