Japan – October 2018 – Understanding.

Japan Buying trip – October 2018 – Understanding.

We come around to yet another Harvest season in Japan. I want to take this time to explain to people how things work over there and why we actually go.

The mountains of Japan are home to A LOT of Koi breeders and Koi dealers. I would imagine there are 50 that I will actually visit over the time we spend in Japan.

People who have never been believe that you walk in and see the best Koi you have ever seen, this is not the case, unfortunately.

If you imagine the country, you live and the Koi dealers you have. In the UK we have loads, websites all over saying they have the best collections of Koi in the UK!! It’s how people operate all business, not just the Koi business. Its marketing I guess.

However, if you want that special Koi, that single variety, your local dealer may not have, or he may have one but is not in your price range. So, you look around, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that at all, I have passed many customers to other dealers knowing I do not have what they are looking for.

Japan is similar.

I got told once, and it stuck with me. “The bigger the farm, the more crap they produce” which is very true.

We know the percentages from each parent set, we know that probably 200 Koi out of 4million fry actually make it to Koi that will make the breeder some money.

The other 2500 Koi he has there are normally sold to the wholesale market around the world. That’s just one set! Some breeders in Japan are using over 40 sets. The Koi they have to move is incredible. Dealers and wholesalers will buy these Koi by the pond, not by the fish. Yes, they will be relatively cheap but as I had a conversation with a dealer in the UK the other day… where would you put them?!

The breeders in Japan are the exact same as when you go and look at dealers in the UK or wherever you live. They have a range of Koi. They have lesser priced Koi which obviously mean lower grade, they have some ‘medium’ range which are also medium priced (I couldn’t think of a better word for medium)

Then they have their higher end stuff. Their higher end stuff is a lot more money. Then we have to take into consideration the male and female situation.

The male and female argument for me, is only really on high end Koi.

You see people on Facebook groups, people at Koi shows who are well known in the industry, they are the ones who put big importance on the sex of a Koi, and so they should. They are doing the show thing, they want to grow Koi to big sizes so of course they want female.

The majority of most dealers in the UK are customers who have no intention of even going to a Koi show, never mind being bothered about male and female. They want value for money at the end of the day, and like it is in all business, the price is key.

I believe finding high class Koi is MUCH harder than finding lesser quality Koi that we can sell at our stores.

Yes, its brilliant when we sell some stunning jumbo expensive Koi, but in reality, this is bragging rights, it’s not business. People who are still stuck in 15/20 years Koi industry will say different, but the truth of the matter is people know how much a high-class Koi is. If they have learnt anything in their Koi keeping days, they know exactly what a fish should be priced at when they see the Koi in a video or in person, they will have an idea. So, unless that Koi is priced at the correct money, or what it’s worth. You won’t sell it. So, you have to find a high-class Koi, and then buy it a price you can make some money on. It is VERY hard these days. Not a sob story, just the way it is.

Now the other side is the lower grade Koi which is probably 90% of all Koi coming out of Japan. These are the reasons as a dealer we go to Japan. Koi to run our business.

This again, is not as easy as you may think.

Numbers per box, how much water is in that box, what’s the shipping cost per kilo this trip. WHAT? I have to buy 50 to get them at the minimum price?! I only need 15 but unless I get them at the 50 price I can’t sell them! So, I move on…

The next breeder has some but not as much selection… can I even pick 15 out of here? I see 10 easy but the other 5 I probably cannot sell anyway!

The problem is not that the Koi are not there, there are LOADS of them around the breeders, and the breeders WANT to sell these, but again, they have to try and cover costs. I know for a fact that some Koi they sell, they are selling at a loss. Even then, they are too much.

If we are talking about a 10”-12” 35cm Nisai that we want to sell in the UK for £200.00, and the freight on that Koi is £40.00 and we want to make some profit (Sorry, a dirty word) you see where we have to be, plus where the breeder wants to be!

If we buy one piece it could cost us more than the £200. So, we have to look at numbers and the biggest problem, Its time consuming and very frustrating.

Some of the breeders will also say “Okay, I can do them at this price” and we get very excited and run for nets and bowls then they say, “But we pick” Then the excitement turns to disappointment.

Then many breeders who deal with the big wholesalers are pre-sold out. So, we can walk in and see some fish which would be ideal for the shop, but all sold out.

So, buying and selling High Class Koi is easy, it’s great. We see and bowl some absolutely amazing Koi, real show pieces. We then video them, photograph them and send them to clients all over the world who then have to agree with the price. They buy them, and everything is great, we post on our websites and social media “HEY LOOK AT ME” but the reality of this is that the money on high class Koi will never pay the trip. If I was on my own and didn’t have a shop then yes, I would be able to make a living out of it. However, the Koi that I need to for the shop, and to make some money on are so much more difficult to find, well maybe not to find, but to actually buy.

I suppose that’s why most dealers who go to Japan have their favored breeders. Breeders that know you, and your business and ones you have forged relationships with over many years.

I had an order for some Kiko Kuryu about 5 years ago, and the only place who had them was someone I had never dealt with ever really, I knew him to say hello to but never actually bought from him. I asked a few other breeders and this guy was my only choice.

I went, bowled them…waited for a price…fainted. I still had to buy them, and he knew that.

The guy who ordered them changed his mind after I bought them and ended up buying other Koi, so I was stuck with them. Usually small Nisai last a maximum of 2 months, we had some of these for 2 years.

This Autumn we are looking for similar Koi.

Please don’t get me wrong, the lesser quality Koi are by far bad Koi, and that’s probably the main issue when we get the prices. The breeder knows they are good Koi, he deserves more money for them, they are worth more money. We just know our market and what we need to ‘land’ these Koi back in the UK for, so we can sell them and run the business. I have often bought Koi in Japan at prices which were fair to me but because you are seeing so many Koi you don’t fully appreciate them until you get them back to the UK. When we get back from the Airport at 1am and we start releasing these Koi I have often thought “Wow, he was right, these are excellent” I have gone back many times and said thank you again for the Koi.

We leave again in less than a month and have an idea in our heads what we want. Will those be available? I doubt it. I hope similar will be. I am actually going earlier than ever this time just to visit to particular breeders who I know, if I went a week later they would be totally sold out. So, 5 days before I should be going, just for 2 breeders.

All dealers know their markets, they know what kind of Koi sells the best, price and variety. The current trends change every year, this year for us it’s probably Kohaku. Many people are wanting them, and we haven’t brought that many in over the last 3 years, Showa were the previous trend. So that’s a major reason we get on a plane and fly to Japan, we can pick what we sell. We can try and limit the Koi we may not be able to sell if we bought a box of ‘Mixed’ Koi on the internet. We can pick the right Koi for us, and our business.


I started writing this as a piece that explained that Japan is not just full of amazing Koi. They have to be searched for and we search very hard.

They are not as common as you might think, it’s frustrating trying to find that one Koi.

“Oh, Hey Tim, I want a 3 step Kohaku, but the second step has to be the biggest step, I want it close to the tail with a 1cm gap, Nisai, Female, under £1500.00. If I can find that Koi, which is difficult anyway, I may have to go to 15 breeders, then maybe something else will make the client not buy it. “I didn’t want Kuchibeni” Back to the drawing board…


“Tancho female, 50cm – Perfect spot “


“Tancho Showa – 50cm Female – Perfect spot and Sumi in these places…”


“I want a 56cm Yamabuki Ogon – Female” Yes, 56cms!!


It’s like adding extra’s to a car when the details need to be like this. Imagine the face of the breeders when I ask…


Please don’t get me wrong though, this time next month we will be at some of the biggest Harvests in Japan, we will be seeing unbelievable Koi coming out of the mud ponds, we will be visiting 10-15 breeders a day, having a chat, having a coffee with them, going out for dinner with them, learning all the time.

We will be seeing some of the best Koi in the world at Koi Shows, we will be trying to find some excellent quality Koi. We will be seeing how the Koi that have been left there have come out. We will be with clients who are looking for Koi in Japan, so in the evenings we will be full on Koi talk and what we have seen and bought that day.

Over 60 trips to Japan now and still get butterflies before I go. Those butterflies have flown away after about 2 days though!! However, we are there, in the greatest place to buy Koi in the world.


I cannot wait.