insight - Futoshi Mano

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Occupation - President, Dainichi Koi Farm

Dainichi Koi Farm in Niigata on the island of Honshu is the most highly regarded koi (carp) farm in Japan, having produced many Grand Champions. The president of the company, Futoshi Mano, talks to Oryx about this Japanese culture that has swept the globe.

“It was in the 1970s that people became excited by koi as a status symbol,” says Futoshi. “I don’t deny that owning koi is still a status symbol today. But one of the main reasons hobbyists keep koi is because it is a creature that can get used to people; when you walk to the pond the koi will swim to you and you can feed them by hand. People also consider koi as art. Paintings from many centuries ago don’t change by month or year, but because koi are living things we can see the development and the changes of the beauty and art every month, every year. They also help the hobbyist relax from stress and give them the energy to work tomorrow.”

The keeping of koi as a hobby started 200 years ago when people living in the Niigata area used koi as food during winter because heavy snowfalls prevented them from leaving their villages. Due to the environment and cold weather, some of the fish mutated to develop different-colour scales. Thus, people became interested in crossbreeding them to try developing more beautiful koi for aesthetic value, rather than for food. At first this was a hobby only amongst people in the region, but soon the fish were bartered for goods from other regions and so came to public attention. As a result, hobby-like improvements became the koi farming business.

The word ‘koi’ comes from Japanese, simply meaning ‘carp’. The word ‘nishiki’ is used to describe beautiful and elegant things, and what are known as ‘koi’ in English are referred to more specifically as ‘nishikigoi’ in Japan.

Dainichi Koi Farm was established by Futoshi’s father Minoru Mano in 1959. Futoshi started getting involved in nishikigoi breeding when he was 20. His father passed away when Futoshi was 24, so he and his two younger brothers tried to develop the Dainichi Koi Farm as their father would have done.

“My father used to tell me: ‘Try not to think about money. Concentrate on breeding the highest quality koi, and wait. That is all. If you are calculating expense and profit you cannot make brave decisions. Do your best, and spend as much money as you want – as long as it is needed’,” explains Futoshi.

“He taught me that if you breed the highest quality koi, people would acknowledge the quality of production because they look not only at the koi, but also at the attitude and efforts of the breeder. Only then can the brand of Dainichi expand and become better.”

Another lesson that Futoshi’s father instilled in him was that unless he is a good person, he cannot have good koi. “It’s a spiritual thing rather than scientific fact,” he says. “But unless I have a good attitude and good humility people won’t love me and won’t deserve my koi. I believe it affects the result of the koi too.”

Much like the horse, koi are bred from a bloodline. “You cannot breed the highest quality nishikigoi unless you have good-quality parent fish – they are the most important asset,” says Futoshi. “That’s why a lot of Japanese breeders buy from Dainichi Koi Farm and use our koi as their own parent fish. I think this is one of the reasons our business is successful,” he adds.

There is a lot of work involved in breeding nishikigoi. May and June mark the beginning of the breeding season when the parent fish spawn. When the eggs hatch, the fry are released into a mud pond. “One female fish can spawn between 300,000 to one million eggs, and we take about 20 pairs in a year, so we have up to 20 million fry,” says Futoshi. “During the summer we feed the fish, let them grow, and cull, or select, the fish every day of the week from June to September, ending up with a ‘harvest’ of around 20,000.”

The period between October and February is the business end of the season. The nishikigoi are moved from the mud pond to a concrete pond, where hobbyists and breeders from Japan and around the world can view and buy the koi. Culling takes place in the winter time as well, and the fish are released back into the mud pond again from April to May.

Dainichi Koi Farm has 12 workers – a lot compared to most other breeders, which are usually smaller family businesses. Part of Futoshi’s job is training new staff, and he believes breeding nishikigoi is an art; they are not just a product. “I need to train new staff to have a high sense of beauty and art. I am interested in other forms of art and visit galleries as much as possible to polish my own sense of beauty,” he says. “Nishikigoi are quite different from other art forms because koi are living things, but I need to pay attention to other beautiful things and try to develop the koi through this sense.”

Futoshi describes the art of the Dainichi Koi Farm breeders: “Perhaps a breeder or hobbyist will buy the koi from us and grow them bigger and bigger and develop them, and may enter them into the koi show and win Grand Champion. At Dainichi Koi Farm we concentrate on creating the ‘stone of the diamond’, and the breeder or hobbyist ‘polishes the diamond’ and makes it beautiful,” he explains.

“Sometimes the fish can develop drastically – sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way – and the hobbyist wants to experience those changes. About ten years ago we had an event and one of the koi just wouldn’t sell. Four or five years later that fish became Grand Champion of All Japan Show, which is the best koi show in the world. The most expensive fish sell for 10 or 20 million Yen, sometimes 30 million or more. The left-over fish at that event eventually sold for about 100,000 or 150,000 Yen, so [although] not in the top class, even professional breeders didn’t see its potential and how much it would change.”

The company exports a lot of fish all over the world, and keeping nishikigoi has become a very popular hobby globally, but Futoshi would still like to further expand and export this Japanese culture to foreigners. “I wish that nishikigoi became more popular and that many people in different countries kept koi and acknowledged their beauty,” he says. ”We have a lot of hobbyists in America, Asia, Europe, and some parts of Africa; but as for the Middle East, there are not many there – yet!”

With special thanks to the International Nishikigoi Promotion Center (INPC) and Nishikigoi from Niigata (NfN) for their cooperation
with this interview.

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