Before we had cats and dogs… in fact, before I had children, I had an aquarium. Like many first time aquarium owners, I started with gold fish. But they never lasted long despite my best efforts, and despite using only natural rocks and plants and no plastic or other artificial ornaments.
The time came when constantly replacing the dead gold fish became an expensive exercise. That was when I discovered koi — cheaper than gold fish but just as colorful. Of course, the koi had none of the long, wide tail and fins of the gold fish that gracefully twirl as the fish swims. In fact, I found the shape of the koi, tail and fins included, rather common and unexciting. But that was okay — they were colorful, they were more hardy and they were much cheaper than the darn gold fish.
At that time, I didn’t know the word koi. In pet stores, the fish that most of us now refer to as koi was simply called carp. And that is technically correct because the koi is simply an ornamental and domesticated variety of the common carp. I had no idea either that koi has a huge cultural significance in Asia. I would learn that much later when Sam and Alex were babies. We went to visit an uncle, learned that he had bought the lot that adjoined his house and built a koi pond there. One of his daughters, a professional interior designer, explained the symbolism of the koi.
But, first, a terminology issue. Koi is the Japanese word for carp. Although the koi is associated with Chinese feng shui principles, the carp is not called koi in China. In China, the carp is yu and it has the same pronunciation for the word that means abundance. In China, the carp was food, not ornament. They weren’t pretty either.
The brightly-colored carp did not appear until the 1800s when selective breeding for color began in Japan — as a hobby among farmers.
In China, hybridization of the carp gave birth to the gold fish.
That said, when some feng shui “expert” tells you that a koi pond in your garden will encourage the inflow of wealth and good fortune, “koi” really means “carp”. You can keep a pond of plain-looking carp and that will still be feng shui compliant. It’s just that, for aesthetic reasons, the ornamental koi is more visually pleasing than the dull-looking common carp.
If you want to keep koi for ornamental purposes, for feng shui reasons or for whatever motivation, see the following resources: