Whoever said that osu, or male Koi, were supposed to be cheap? They really should come and attend these auctions. Cheap is a relative term and because Koi is a hobby that competes on an international level, the standards are set such that the demand determines the price for the supply. Price is quite an inadequate gauge for the quality of a Koi, but it does cover some of the basics.
Today saw the conclusion of Sakai Fish Farms’ two day auction here in Hiroshima, Japan, and I feel quite privileged to have the opportunity to be one of the few invited to take part in this prestigious annual event. While most of these Koi are purchased on behalf of hobbyists from around the world, only Koi Dealers or Breeders are invited to attend this event, and only those with actual intentions of bidding at the auction usually make it out to Hiroshima.
The two day event began with the sale of male jumbo tosai, Nisai, small tosai (gender yet to be determined) and some Nisai and Sansai Female Koi. Upon entering the farm, the day’s Koi for sale may be viewed in highly dense temporary vats similar to those you would find at Koi shows. Guests are then separated into different groups by picking your group number out of a box. Each group is given a small tub which they huddle around and rock-paper-scissors who gets to go first in selecting Koi.
After each group has decided the order to which Koi are selected, an assortment of Koi is then poured into the tubs. Guests then take turns in selecting one Koi at a time and put the fish in a small bag that was provided. When the bag gets full, they bring it up to a table where the sale is recorded and the Koi is set aside for its respective owner.
Different lots of Koi separated in bags are also set aside, priced and numbered. Guests are given small pieces of paper to write their name on, which they insert into a small ziploc bag attached to the bag of Koi they are interested in. At the end of the day, one bidder is chosen per lot by means of picking out their name from a box. The female Nisai and Sansai Koi also have set prices posted, and a guest interested in purchasing a particular Koi must write their name on a piece of paper and similarly drop it in a bag attached to the Koi’s certificate. If your name is picked out of the box, you are the proud owner of the Koi.
Demand is quite high for Sakai fish, so the system enforced in purchasing Koi during their special auction season is a crafty way to allow those with a lesser purchasing power an equal opportunity at owning their special stock. However, much of this relies on luck, and those with a deeper desire and better means to own a particular Koi have more certainty in their purchase at the auction.
I have been lucky in my young life to have experienced many of these auctions vicariously through my father. Already quite a seasoned and well-known Koi dealer, he would tell me his experiences, the ins and outs of the trade and insider’s information on how to choose the best fish, get the best deal, and how to be smart about purchasing fish. While I had a pretty good idea about what to expect during the auction, being on the front lines is a whole different level. The Koi industry is quite interesting as you both meet and make friends with many, many people from around the world. Indonesians, Malaysians, Thai, Taiwanese, Belgians, Americans, British, etc. etc. were all present and eager to be able to return home with fantastic Koi. Many of the people I ran into I had already either met previously while I was accompanying my dad on one of his Koi buying trips in Japan, or had already heard of my dad and thus I was no longer a complete stranger by association. Regardless, the friendships that you make in Koi are quite unique from any of my other friendships as it is built on a shared interest and passion for something that most of the world would find difficult to understand. It kinda makes me feel like I’m part of some sort of secret society! 😉
The auction commenced after lunch and began with the auctioning of Male Jumbo tosai and small tosai (usually in lots of at least two) of gender unknown. These beautiful Koi, despite being male, were purchased for incredible prices and completely debunked the notion that male Koi are cheap. The price of the fish is clearly determined not entirely by gender, but by quality and demand. To make a reference, a BMW is expected to be more expensive than a Lexus, but when Lexus released its ISF, it clearly gave BMW a run for its money.
These auctions were a lot more light-hearted than I anticipated, and while enormous amounts of money were being called out, there was absolutely no air of pretention or hustling. Jokes were being exchanged between rivaling bidders, and even among the crowd. Bidders who were able to win the Koi they wanted at a very good price bowed and said thank you to the other guests to let them know that he appreciated them not bidding him up (whether they really wanted the Koi or not), and bidders who paid enormous sums of money for their Koi received the renowned clap, which I was proud to have experienced first hand….and I even got a video of it! During the past two days, I heard it quite a number of times, not only for the purchase of female nisai and Jumbo tosai, but also for Male Tategoi and small tosai.
Ii Koi Clap (click on the link to see the video)
(I wasn’t able to start the clap from the beginning. I didn’t realize that my point and shoot camera had such a delay when starting a video!)
This was such a fantastic experience for me and I am beyond grateful for the incredible hospitality shown to Devin and I by all the people at Sakai fish farm. Sacho, Kentaro san, Nishikawa san, and all the staff are such wonderful, warm, humble and hard-working people who give their whole lives to the passion for Koi and I cannot thank them enough for allowing us to be a part of this event. Hontou ni Arigatou Gozaimasu!