Modern day goldfish are believed to have descended from several red mutants of the Chinese funa carp. These mutants, or hibuna (ヒブナ), in turn mutated into the wakin (和金), the first goldfish that were brought into Japan in 1502. Since then, the humble wakin has given rise to dozens of varieties. However, only wakin has been given the honor of having wa or “of Japan” in its name, as befitting its status as the founding father of Japanese goldfish.
A living work of art…
Of course, the numerous goldfish varieties available nowadays didn’t just arise spontaneously. At the end of the Edo period, goldfish gradually went from just being exotic pets for the privileged, to being a living art form, and many new varieties were developed as breeders strove for perfection. (Fortuitous mutations played a part as well, but even then many years of careful breeding is needed to “fix” the characteristics of each variety.)
The quest for the perfect goldfish continues to this day, as evidenced by the hobbyist clubs that specialise in the breeding and development of specific varieties. Takao Narisawa, a goldfish farmer, estimated that it will take him 20 years to breed the Shonai Sakura, a pearly-skinned, scaleless variety — goldfish breeding in Japan is certainly not just a simple pastime. There’s also the annual All Japan Ranchu Show, where ranchuu (らんちゅう) are judged on conformation and coloring, and the one deemed most splendid is bestowed a certificate signed by the Prime Minister.
… or a mere toy?
Despite how celebrated goldfish are in Japan, the plainer varieties can be deemed no more than a plaything. Goldfish scooping, or kingyo-sukui (金魚すくい), has been around since the Edo period, and is a common sight at many summer festivals. Usually, participants use a paper net, or poi (ポイ), to scoop goldfish from a shallow pool into a bowl. The game ends when the poi tears beyond use, at which point the fish they caught, if any, are bagged for them to take home.
Kingyo-sukui is more than just a festival attraction, however. In fact, it is so popular that a national championship is jointly held every year by the National Goldfish Scooping Organisation and Yamatokoriyama city (which, incidentally, is famous for goldfish production). Last year’s team event was won by a trio that managed, in just three minutes, to scoop up 173 goldfish! Using paper nets!
It’s all in the wrist
Apparently, for a successful scooping, all you have to do is:
- ensure the entire poi is wet,
- keep the poi angled and parallel to the water flow,
- scoop the fish from its head, and
- don’t let the fish’s thrashing tail touch, and subsequently tear the fragile paper.
I think this goes firmly into the “easier said than done” basket, myself.
In any case, if you’ve tried kingyo-sukui before and have some tips of your own, share them with us in the comments!