Back in 2009 Ricky interviewed renound breeder Makoto Tanaka, Managing Director of Nishikigoi Niigata Direct (NND Koi Farm), based in Nagaoka.
In today's blog we re-look at that interview word for word, in full detail.
Image: Ricky Stoddart and Makoto Tanaka
Please note that all interview references to a recession and exchange rates are historical and are not a reflection of the current Covid pandemic.
Ricky: How is the global recession impacting on your business it at all?
Makoto: Because of the exchange rate since last October. The yen is becoming stronger against the foreign currency especially to the English pound so I was afraid and I am still afraid that the foreign buyer and the customers set back to buy the Koi.
Ricky: Have you had to take any measures to keep your customers buying Koi?
Makoto: I was taking 3 measures. The first measure was I offered 20-25% off price than normal since last October. The second measure is that I have been breeding many different varieties, which are very popular with the foreign buyers. The third way is I am going to grow a little bit smaller size Koi because now my Nissai are 55cm or some over 60cm and they are expensive to grow. The packing rate is just 2 or 3 fish per box which means the shipping costs is higher so this year I am also growing the super jumbo nissai but on the other hand as well I am growing the smaller size Nissai.
Ricky: What is your proudest achievement?
Makoto: What I have been proud of in the past was that last year a few of my Sanke grew over 60cm in Autumn season and when I recall my memory last spring in May I released the very high grade Sanke and these Tosai Sanke were 35-38cm and in Autumn a few grew over 60cm and the average size last autumn in October was 53-58cm. This year I already released my top grade Sanke into the mud ponds and the average size this year is 38-43cm and I expect that some of 20 pieces out of 200 pieces of super jumbo Nisai will grow over 60-65cm. So my Koi are improving in size and also in quality.
Ricky: What is it about Nishikigoi that you love so much?
Makoto: Because the Nishikigoi is my dream and Nishikigoi itself is a swimming jewel.
Ricky: What characteristics do you look for when selecting male and female Oyagoi?
Makoto: Incase of the female the quality and the body shape. Of course the pattern is also important. In case the pattern is not good enough I would still use it if the female Koi has the good quality and good shape. Basically the pattern doesn’t matter.
Ricky: And the male Koi?
Makoto: The elements of selecting male fish are that the male fish had better have some kind of good element that the female doesn’t have. So the Female has this good point and this good point but is lacking this point then I think, for example the sumi. The sumi of the female is no good but the body shape and quality is good so in that case I would like to select the male fish that has a strong sumi.
Ricky: What age did you begin to learn about Nishikigoi?
Makoto: As my family was doing the family business of Nishikigoi I was 6 or 7 years old when I first became familiar with Nishikigoi.
Ricky: Where did you train and how many years did you train?
Makoto: So I learned from my father for 5 years.
Ricky: How do you keep your Koi during the winter months and why?
Makoto: So there are two types of Koi in winter season. One is a Koi that is for sale in spring and the other is the Koi for growing. So as for the Koi that are for sale in spring I keep the water temperature cooler at about 16-17 degrees so that after the Koi are sold in spring the Koi will not loose it’s conditions. As for my tategoi I keep the water temperature higher and this year I keep 24 degrees in my tategoi pond and using the feeding machine. I feed 6 times per day so every 2 hours the automatic feeder starts feeding this is the reason why my super jumbo Tosai grew up to 38-43cm and some of the biggest one this year was 48cm so it will reach to 65cm in October. In winter season after harvesting these koi have grown over 20cm.
Ricky: What were your ambitions as a Koi breeder when you began?
Makoto: So I had a strong passion to create the Nishikigoi, which gives some strong feeling to Koi keepers.
Ricky: Your father was a very well respected man for the Koi that he produced and his input to the development of the Koi industry. He must have had high expectations for you. Did you find it difficult to live up to your father’s expectations and do you think that he made you the breeder you are today?
Makoto: So the first point is that my father must be proud now because I took over my father’s business the business passed to the next generation and still doing the same business like my father. Recent years since I have been involved into this Koi breeding business every year the quality or the beauty of Koi is improving every year and 10 years ago breeder was succeeded to breed more beautiful Koi than 20 years ago breeder. Then 5 years ago the breeder makes more beautiful Koi than 10 years ago. Every year the Koi is improving in a very high speed so I would like to catch up this stream that every year Koi is improving, improving, improving. I have been doing my best in this company to catch up the top breeder in Japan.
Ricky: How many varieties do you breed at the moment?
Makoto: Sanke, Showa, Kohaku, Gin Rin Sanke, Gin Rin Showa, Gin Rin Kohaku, Shusui, Beni Kumonryu, Doitsu Sanke, Doitsu Showa, Chagoi, Ochiba Shigure & Hariwake. That’s all 13 varieties.
Ricky: When you decide to breed a different variety how do you know what to look for in the fry and the older koi?
Makoto: Basically at every variety the standard of selecting koi is the same pattern quality or maybe quality and the pattern. In case of Hariwake or the metallic fish the skin must be shiny the pectoral fin skin, dorsal & tail fin must be shiny. Basically as a breeder I paid attention just on the quality of the koi not just the pattern.
Ricky: Makoto and his father were well know for growing koi big with a good shape what is your secret?
Makoto: So 2 points. The appropriate season depends on the temperature. The appropriate season the appropriate amount of food.
Ricky: So the right amount of food with the right season?
Makoto: Yes correct and also everyday me and my father would go to the mud ponds to feed at nearly the same time. Then the koi noticed aah now is the time that the breeder is coming and we get food. If the koi look too hungry then the feeding level will be increased but if the koi take the same amount of time to eat the food then the feeding level will stay the same.
Ricky: Observation is important!
Makoto: Yes observation at the same time.
Ricky: You produce very nice Sanke do you have your own bloodline now?
Makoto: So now I am trying to make my own bloodline. My original bloodline is coming from Sadazo lineage.
Ricky: Which leads to my next question. Your Sanke originated from the Sadazo bloodline what characteristics of this bloodline do you like.
Makoto: What I like from sadazo bloodline is that the sumi is gathered and when the sumi is nearly becoming finished the colour of the sumi is blue/black. The sumi is black with a little bit of blue colour.
Ricky: Do Tanaka Sanke differ from original sadazo sanke?
Makoto: As for the sadazo sanke originally the koi does not grow big enough but I am trying to develop and create this lineage to grow much more bigger fish.
Ricky: How many years does it take for your Sanke to reach their best?
Makoto: 5-6 years old.
Makoto: In the past couple of years I have been trying to grow the super jumbo Sanke. So my final goal at the moment is to grow and breed the Sanke, which is over 80cm within 5 years or 6 years.
Ricky: Can I ask one more question? In order to grow the jumbo Sanke is it important that the Tosai are a very large size?
Makoto: In order to grow the koi big, over 80cm two points is inevitable one is the circumstances that the koi has been growing up since the koi hatched if the circumstances or the environment that the koi are in is good then the circumstances are very important. The second point is the potentiality of the koi if the koi doesn’t have the potentiality to grow over 80cm then if the circumstances are good enough the koi does not reach to over 80cm. But if the koi does have the potentiality to grow over 80cm and also the circumstances is good enough to help the potentiality flower then it will reach to over 80cm. So he would like to achieve these two elements.
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