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Koi Carp: The Most Expensive Koi Fish Ever Sold

Updated on April 05, 2016
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Michael is interested in life's little oddities and finds writing helps him to understand what is going on. Here he shares his thoughts

Koi Are Living Art

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Koi Fish

From humble origins, the koi has come to be the most precious of all fish, the most beautiful specimens selling for up to $2.2 million.

This ancient, beautiful and long-lived fish continues to fascinate and intrigue. Millions of dollars are spent each year on a few of the very best Koi specimens, and plenty of additional money is spent on the more common types.

To understand why this fish is so popular, we need to understand its history and ancestry.

From the humble farm laborer’s dining table, to the Emperor’s palace, koi have had a fascinating journey.

The beautifully patterned, expensive specimens we see today bear little resemblance to their drab-coloured ancestors bred purely for food.

Koi are Swimming Jewels

Koi are Swimming Jewels
Koi are Swimming Jewels | Source

Domestication of the Carp

The origins of these superb creatures are as murky as the muddy ponds their ancestors inhabited. Several carp species are native to Central Europe and Asia; one of them, Cyprinus carpio, originating in the area of the Black, Caspian, and Aral seas, spread west to the Danube river in Europe and east to East Asia, was domesticated in both regions, and eventually gave rise to the koi. Carp were raised in ponds for food at least 2400 years ago in China and during the Roman Empire in Europe.

Domesticated carp were long a mainstay food source for many people around the world, including in Europe. The popularity of carp as a table dish in Europe declined around the 1830s, as new networks of railways transformed the fishing industry. Ocean fish, which could now be delivered quickly, became popular in big cities. Changing tastes may also have played a part in carp’s decline as a food fish.

Koi Carp Feeding

Theories on the Origin of Koi

Though it was once thought that Cyprinus carpio or common carp was a Chinese fish that had been brought to Europe, in 1995 E. K. Balon showed that the Danube has had an indigenous wild carp population since the retreat of the last glaciation in 12,000 BC.

Balon cites an ancient Roman source, Ovid (43 BC to AD 17 or 18), regarding the domestication of carp. Cassiodorus (AD 490-585) confirmed that carp graced King Theodorus's court in Italy: “From the Danube come Carp and from the Rhine Herring. To provide a variety of flavours, it is necessary to have many fish from many countries. A king's reign should be such as to indicate that he possesses everything." (From The Early History of the Carp and its Economic Significance in England, by carp fisherman Christopher Currie).

In the Far East, also, carp attracted royal patrons. The Japanese historical record Nihon-Shoki states the emperor Keikou kept ornamental carp in his palace pond as of AD 94, as did the emperor Suiko in AD 620, though these may have been another carp species, such as the one that became the goldfish.

The decorative carp called koi (in Japanese, nishikogoi) were first bred for their color in the Niigata prefecture of Japan in the 1820s. They contain DNA from the East Asian subspecies of Cyprinus Carpio, and in at least some cases from the western subspecies as well; much hybridization has gone on.

When they were exhibited at a fair in Tokyo in 1914, they created a sensation that spread worldwide.

The highly coloured ornamental specimens are really nothing like the wild varieties. These are not your average pet, like a dog, but the source of great wealth, prestige, and pride.

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Why Koi Are So Expensive

According to Richard Tan, president of the Singapore Koi Club and chairman of the organising committee for the First Asia Cup Koi Show in May 2008, the most expensive koi ever sold went to Japanese companies in the booming 1980s for about 50 million to 100 million yen apiece, or $500,000 to $1,000,000. If adjusted for inflation, 25+ years later, this is equivalent to paying in excess of $2.2 million in today's dollars for one exceptional fish.

Only a few koi enter the bidding at this level. Tan says that out of 500,000 koi bred annually, just 50 are selected for competition when they reach two years of age. The remaining koi go to hobbyists at more ordinary prices.

Owning the most expensive koi is of course a major status symbol, like owning a garage full of Ferraris or Rolls Royce. And yet this is a living creature, it is alive and exquisite to look upon. Tan calls it "living art."

Displaying the "Living Art" of Koi

Fish Bowl (AD 379)
Fish Bowl (AD 379) | Source

The brightly coloured specimens we see today were created by selective breeding. The patterns were partly determined by the way the fish were displayed; they were designed to be seen from above.

In both China and Japan, large earthenware jars were made to show off the fish (there was no technology then for manufacturing large glass bowls). So the fish that looked most pleasing from above were used for breeding. I suppose those that were not so attractive, ended their days on another piece of china. Namely a dinner plate.

Koi Varieties

Click thumbnail to view full-size
KohakuOgonBekkkoAsagiOchibaUtsuriShowa
Kohaku
Kohaku | Source
Ogon
Ogon | Source
Bekkko
Bekkko | Source
Asagi
Asagi | Source
Ochiba
Ochiba | Source
Utsuri
Utsuri | Source
Showa
Showa | Source

White Koi, Sometimes Called Ghost Koi

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Video: Transporting Large Koi

Long-Lived Fish

Koi can live for many years. Though the average specimen in captivity might live 25 or 35 years, an old koi named Hanako, from Mino province in Japan, has been shown to be over 215 years old based on analysis of her scales, and other 100+ year old fish are known from the same pond. Koi, like wild carp, can grow to 36" or more under perfect conditions.

Koi in Japanese and World Culture

The imagery of the koi carp permeates Japanese culture. Their symbolism of long life and prosperity is very appealing, and their slow, peaceful movement inspires tranquility.

With the opening up of Japan to the world in the mid-1850s, their cultural influence has been exported, along with their cars and electronics.

Now we can see images of koi carp just about everywhere, from decorative design for homes to body adornment. In fact Europe is now a significant importer of koi.

You can find places where you can eat koi carp. These will be fish that have been rejected for breeding purposes. If you want to taste regular old-style carp, you will probably find their brownish golden cousins swimming in a lake near you.

But this ancient, long-lived, ornamental fish is much more valuable as living art.


Koi in Art

"Saito Oniwakamaru on a Carp."  A legendary hero rides a giant monster carp.
"Saito Oniwakamaru on a Carp." A legendary hero rides a giant monster carp. | Source
Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), "Red Carp Under Wisteria."
Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), "Red Carp Under Wisteria." | Source

Koi Tattoo

Koi back tattoo in progress
Koi back tattoo in progress | Source

Your Own Koi Pond

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    • profile image

      billy 8 days ago

      Such a beautiful speciman!

    • profile image

      meg in sechelt. bc 7 months ago

      i have 3 koi in excess of 25 years old each and feel they would thrive in a larger more aerated pond - is craigslist the best avenue to find a buyer?

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 11 months ago

      Hi Deborah, thank you for your inquiry about the Jardiniere. It is a Carp Fish bowl. Carp are best viewed from above. I have added a link to the photo above.

    • profile image

      Deborah 12 months ago

      Can you tell me anything about the Asian fish bowl in the illustration? I have one with a very similar design, the red design under the rim is the exactly the same. I am trying to find out more information about the one I have. Thank you.

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 21 months ago

      Yellow ages would be the simplest start for local sources.

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 21 months ago

      Thank you Justina Tong for your interesting but ill informed comments. You really must check your facts before making assertions about the origins of species. Where is your evidence?

      Koi certainly do raise the passion in people. The facts are clearly explained in the article above and I quote:

      "Though it was once thought that Cyprinus carpio or common carp was a Chinese fish that had been brought to Europe, in 1995 E. K. Balon showed that the Danube has had an indigenous wild carp population since the retreat of the last glaciation in 12,000 BC."

      E.K.Balon is a recognized and respected ichthyology source. Maybe you misread or misinterpreted the data in the above article.

      As this states that Koi were in Europe 12,000 years ago.

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 21 months ago

      Hi Terry, sorry for the delay in replying to your warm and interesting comments. I am glad that you found this article helpful and inspired you to share your ideas. I have looked at your paintings and they are truly beautiful. 'As good as gold' is stunning, as are the many other artworks you have created. Thank you for popping in.

    • profile image

      lwest 21 months ago

      How do you find a collector?

    • profile image

      Justina Tong 21 months ago

      Koi carp fish were originally raised in beautiful and lovely Chinese ponds and rice patties. The Chinese were more than generous by donating and sharing the Koi fish according to history with Japan, Canada and the United States and Europe. Koi fish have many different uses and are a symbol of ambition and prosperity in Chinese culture. As a young person, I Justina Tong am smart enough to know that China has evidence to support that the common carp was a Chinese fish that was indeed brought to Europe. Please correct your article with states that “carp simply came from the Danube“ which is a material deficiency and is not correct whether or not it was a theory

      That is a fact that the origin of Koi comes from China thousands of years ago according to history BEFORE the Danube. That is not true that “from the Danube came Carp”. Chinese people were raising and domesticating Koi in ponds at least 1000 years before the Roman empire. Obviously, Chinese royalty knew about Koi fish 1000 years before the Romans. Why else do people see these numerous beautiful Asian ponds with Koi fish that were invented and created in China. Koi fish stand for fortune, longevity, prosperity and courage and it was the Chinese that thought of that over 4000 years ago. Koi fish were raised in China as food in ponds and in rice patty fields. The Chinese people did most of the work in terms of breeding Koi fish into many different colours. In fact, China has made a much bigger contribution to the breeding of Koi fish into many different colours than any other country in the worldKoi fish were much more popular in China during that time. There is solid evidence to support that Koi fish were appreciated by the emperor and empresses in China BEFORE Koi fish ever “graced any European court”.

      Koi fish are native to China at least 500 years BEFORE Cassiodorus (AD 490-585) in Rome and/or Ovid (43 BC to AD 17 or 18) made any comments that carp graced King Theodorus's court in Italy

    • profile image

      Terry Gilecki 21 months ago

      Hi Micheal,

      I got lucky and came across your very informative koi site. I am a professional artist and I did my first Koi pond painting about 15 years ago. I was hooked and have dedicated myself to trying to paint these wonderful creatures in ways that resonate with everyone, whether they are koi enthusiasts or not. As I continue this journey I am learning more about this fascinating creature which only draws me in more.

      If you are interested in seeing my original creations or my limited editions, you can simply google my name "Terry Gilecki".

      Since I primarily paint from imagination I am not always concerned with portraiture accuracy but more with conveying the wonderful sense of peace and serenity of the koi pond onto my canvas.

      Hope you enjoy my perspective.

      Terry Gilecki

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 3 years ago

      Hi Mart, there are many ways to sell Koi. The easiest way is of course online via eBay or a similar type of sales website. Good luck.

    • profile image

      Mart 3 years ago

      How would I go about selling my koi?

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 3 years ago

      Thanks JPSO138, glad you enjoyed this hub on the the most expensive koi even sold.

      It was fascinating researching the facts, and tracking down the source of these amazing creatures.

    • JPSO138 profile image

      JPSO138 3 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      I have seen some kois and know that some are expensive. but I never thought that they are that expensive. Really an interesting and informative hub. You surely made this read worth reding.

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 3 years ago

      Hello Nell Rose,

      They are amazingly long lived fish and the prices are eye watering for sure.

      But the top collectors [rich] will pay just about anything to get their hands on the finest specimens.

      They are the Rolls Royce of Fish!

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 3 years ago from England

      How much? Jeez! I wish I could wake up in the morning and find my two goldfish had turned into them! its just silly money isn't it as you said, played by rich people, but saying that they do live a long time, is it worth the money? as they say, its relative to the market!

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 4 years ago

      Hello rumintasari,

      They are stunning creatures and hope that you manage to get some for yourself.

      Have you considered breeding some for yourself? They are pretty easy to look after. Good luck with your pond.

    • rumintasari profile image

      Ruminta Sari 4 years ago from Sleman

      really interesting hub, voted. I have an outdoor pond planned for koi but not really have the time for it now, so I fill it with other type of carps that are more cheaper and don't need lots of attention. the beautiful koi will be there, sometimes...

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 4 years ago

      Hello jonno96,

      They are amazingly beautiful fish and seem quite intelligent.

      They always know when it is feeding time. :)

    • jonno96 profile image

      jonno96 4 years ago from Australia

      voted this up, quite interesting, i always go to see the koi fish in Singapore airport when in transit, they are so amazing, i wish i had some!

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 4 years ago

      Hello grand old lady,

      The modern Koi carp are the more decorative varieties that are more familiar these days.

      The carp that were eaten in the past were a dull brown colour and kept in rice growing fields, as a supplemental protein source.

      I would imagine that they would taste quite earthy similar to farmed trout.

      Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 4 years ago from Philippines

      I have always been fascinated with koi carp. They are so beautiful and they are plentiful in the Philippines. I never knew that they were eaten, I thought they were mainly decorative. Would you know how they taste? A part of me doesn't respond well to the thought of eating these large and beautiful fish, but we must live dangerously, even Grand Old Ladies.

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 4 years ago

      Hi John,

      I agree. Tattooing fish is wrong, not to mention very difficult.

      Slippery little suckers. :)

    • profile image

      John 4 years ago

      Tattoing fish is wrong.

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 4 years ago

      Thank you anusujith,

      So glad you liked reading about koi carp. They are amazing fish.

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 4 years ago

      Thanks sgbrown,

      Sorry about the delay in posting a reply but things are a little hectic at the moment. Koi carp are amazing creatures and the colours are spectacular, not to mention the prices. :)

    • anusujith profile image

      Anoop Aravind A 4 years ago from Nilambur, Kerala, India

      Nice hub... You prepared it well...

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 4 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Koi are beautiful fish! I see them in ornamental ponds in different places and always enjoy looking at them. I have always enjoyed koi art work as well, it is always so graceful and colorful. This is a great hub with such good information. Many votes and sharing! Have a beautiful day!

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      Seeing as how they can cost the same, a tattoo is easier to take care of but the live version is more fun to watch. Voting this Up and Interesting. Thanks for SHARING.

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 5 years ago

      Hello John Sarkis,

      Ha ha the poor halibut. Have you even seen a monk-fish. Now that has a face only a mother could love but again delicious. Sold as scampi in Britain at a premium price too.

    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great hub. These fish are beautiful to look at, luckily for them they don't taste very good. That said, halibuts are very ugly and taste delicious. My point, philosophy exists even in fish...LOL

      Great hub

      John

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 5 years ago

      Hi there vasantha T k,

      Thank you for coming over too.

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 5 years ago

      Hello Tammy,

      lol your great,great,great grand-kids will still be feeding them lol

      I didn't think of that? how weird is that?

    • vasantha  T k profile image

      vasantha T k 5 years ago from Bangalore

      Thanks for sharing. Interesting and informative. Voted up.

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 5 years ago

      Hi Kris,

      I agree they do look to good to eat. Not to mention the costs lol

      The 300 dollar tattoo is actually cheap compared to the fish?

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 5 years ago

      Hello JS,

      Glad you had a chance to study up on these amazing fish. Koi Carp are way too expensive to eat but you can get their cousins the Common Carp at reasonable prices.lol

      I'm not sure how they compare on taste, but like you I will stick to more mundane fish and chips lol

      Thanks for SHARING too much appreciated.

    • tammyswallow profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

      Fantasic hub. I love looking at these fish and would love to have a pond full of them. Now I am not sure my great, great, great Grandkids would appreciate that. Beautiful creatures. Thanks for sharing these!

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      Wow, I knew they had long lives but would never had guessed up to 230 years. That's amazing.

      I know conceptually they can't be much different than eating other fish but I think I'd have a hard time feasting on the beauties!

      Neat hub!

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      OK, ok. I came back and read the article lol! Wow, I had no idea about these fish species although I have seen pictures online. These fish have quite a history. They've certainly been around for a long time! I can't believe that they can live a few hundred years! That's amazing! I don't think I could afford one at this time, so I'll stick to the local cod species! Very well researched and executed. Voted up and stuff!

      Thanks for SHARING!

      JSMatthew~

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 5 years ago

      Thanks for sharing that with us JS lol

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I had that for dinner tonight! Not the carp, but fish and chips! lol I think it was cod. Just sayin'...

      JSMatthew~

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 5 years ago

      Anyone for fish and chips? lol

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 5 years ago

      Hi Debbie,

      lol the big one would have been released back into the lake.

      The origins are indeed submerged in the mists of time:)

      There is a whole industry devoted to catering to people who want to fish for Carp.

      They are very smart, cunning and apparently they sneak about nibbling the bait but not swallowing the hook. That is why they are prized when caught, as it shows the skills of the angler.

      I know that they are breed for eating, but haven't delved into when, they would be suitable for the plate. I would imagine these would be the common carp.

      The more exotic varieties would be prohibitively expensive as a food fish.

      They are great to look at, I totally agree.

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 5 years ago

      Terrific, Michael. I also enjoyed viewing the colorful tattoos of carp fish. However did you find them? Thanks to everyone for adding little tidbits to the carp pond of information making this hub full of goodies. I suppose since we can't go back in time, we won't ever know the "official" origin and how they were bred and spread. Many people have them in their home ponds here in America today. Their colors are stunning. Do you have any idea how long it takes for a carp to grow to an eatable size? The biggun' didn't get away. Do you think he threw it back in to the water?

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 5 years ago

      Hello MM,

      That big orange carp is sensational I agree.

      Thanks for the vote up.

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 5 years ago

      Thanks for dropping derdrui glad you enjoyed it.

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 5 years ago

      Hi tillsontitan,

      I think the Gefilte fish is the made from the common carp. It would make a very expensive sandwich if made from these fancy breeds lol.

    • Movie Master profile image

      Movie Master 5 years ago from United Kingdom

      The koi certainly are beautiful fish, their colours are amazing.

      The 30lb orange koi is a real beauty as is the tattoo!

      Very interesting and informative hub thank you and voted up.

    • profile image

      Derdriu 5 years ago

      molometer: What an informative, riveting, useful summary of the life and times of the koi carp! It is amazing how many applications people have found to express their admiration for the colorful koi carp: key chains to pottery to tattoos!

      Thank you for sharing, etc.,

      Derdriu

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 5 years ago from New York

      Nice and informative. The 30lb orange specimen is quite a treat! Carp here in America are just considered bottom feeders (which they are), however they are used to make Gefilte fish - a poached carp dish usually eaten during the Jewish holidays. Koi are gaining popularity in backyard ponds but they need a lot of filtration as they too are 'bottom feeders.' Voted up.

    • molometer profile image
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      molometer 5 years ago

      Hello Always,

      They are amazing and I am happy to have shown you something new and different. They are stunning hey?

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 5 years ago

      Hi Jen,

      They are amazing fish and so popular worldwide too. I saw some in a beautiful oriental garden in Kent of all places and your right. It is just so peaceful to sit and watch them.

      The big orange one is incredible isn't it. There is a whole industry that just uses them for sport fishing, they are released again after capture.

    • molometer profile image
      Author

      molometer 5 years ago

      Hello Prasetio, I am so pleased that you enjoyed the story. They are truly; an incredible species. They come in so many varieties and are enjoyed by all. Not to mention expensive?

      How are things with you, your hub on Hobbiton is a great read. I would like to visit there one day, and you showed me some interesting things to do on tour.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      These are beautiful fish. I've never seen them before. Thank you for sharing..

    • profile image

      jenubouka 5 years ago

      Yea that 30lbs carp looks like a goldfish on steroids....

      No seriously I saw these beautiful fish in a man made pond/lake in Hawaii, so peaceful and graceful.

      I love the meaning behind them and the tattoo is priceless!

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

      This was beautiful hub about Koi. This fish also popular in my country. We can find many Koi's breeder with export quality. Koi is a symbol of prosperity and it believed by Koi's collectors. They felt relax after worked in all day long and enjoy the beauty of Koi. Thank you very much for writing and share with us. I love "30 lb Orange Carp Caught". Rated up and useful!

      Prasetio

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