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Goldfish Have Been Loved for Many Years Due to Their Cute Appearance

   Japanese people love goldfish.
   This might be because they are small and cute.
   Or perhaps it is because they come in many beautiful colors, such as red, white, gold, and black.
   Maybe it is because they are hardy pets that you can keep without needing a lot of effort.
   There are many different reasons why Japanese people love goldfish.

Goldfish Grew Popular Over Several Centuries Among the General Public, Since 500 Years Ago

   It is said that goldfish came to Japan about 500 years ago.
   Goldfish were produced in China through selectively breeding “common goldfish,” red variants of the crucian carp. At the start of the 16th century, these goldfish were brought into the Kansai and Kyushu regions in Japan.
   For a long time after this, goldfish were a luxury, and were only kept by wealthy merchants and feudal lords.
   The red color of goldfish was thought to ward off evil, and their golden color was thought to signify the accumulation of wealth. As such, goldfish were considered to be very lucky animals.
   In the 18th century, Japan experienced a goldfish boom where many people came to keep goldfish. A large number of goldfish became available to keep as pets, and they grew popular among the general public as well.
   It is thought that the popularization of goldfish was spurred on by the publishing of “Kingyo Sodate Gusa” (“How to Raise Goldfish”), Japan’s first book on keeping goldfish.

Kingyo Sodate Gusa” (“How to Raise Goldfish”), a book about keeping goldfish that was published in 1748

   There are Ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) in existence featuring peddlers walking as they carry wooden tubs filled with water and swimming goldfish for sale, as well as prints with people keeping goldfish as pets. As you can see from the Ukiyo-e, people watched goldfish from above at this time. People came to watch goldfish from the side after glass aquariums became popular. However, at the time when these Ukiyo-e were made, people kept goldfish in ponds or pots, so they looked at them from above. Varieties of goldfish without any dorsal fins, such as Ranchu and Edo-nishiki, were attractive to people at the time because they could see the patterns on the backs of the fish when looking at them from above. Goldfish with tail fins that spread out to the sides were also attractive to people at the time, because they looked beautiful when watching from above.

Haiyu Mitate Natsu Shonin Kingyo Uri” (“Actors as Summer Merchants: Goldfish Seller” by Utagawa Kunisada), housed at the Edo-Tokyo Museum

Niju-shi Ko Imayo Bijin Kingyo-zuki” (“The Twenty-four Modern Women Enthusiasts: Goldfish Enthusiast” by Utagawa Toyokuni), 1863

   Utagawa Kuniyoshi was an Ukiyo-e artist who was active in the latter half of the Edo Period. He left many prints that humorously depicted the customs of goldfish that were anthropomorphized as if they were part of the general public. These prints depict curious worlds by putting goldfish in the places of people within situations that are familiar to the general public. For example, one print shows a cat appearing in front of goldfish that were telling scary stories, and other print shows a goldfish blowing soap bubbles.

Kingyo-zukushi Hyaku-monogatari” (“A Variety of Goldfish: A Hundred Terrifying Tales” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi), housed at the Tokyo National Museum

Kingyo-zukushi Tama-ya Tama-ya” (“A Variety of Goldfish: Bubbles for Sale” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi), housed at the Tokyo National Museum

Beautiful Goldfish Produced through Crossbreeding and Mutations

   There are many varieties of goldfish, and these varieties were produced through crossbreeding and mutations.
   In the Meiji Period (1868–1912), selective breeding came to be performed actively in Japan as well.
   Ranchu are said to have turned into their current form between the Edo Period (1603–1868) and the Meiji Period. This variety of goldfish is round with many bumps on its head.
   It has no dorsal fin and its tail fins spread out to the sides, and so this variety is intended for viewing from above.


Ranchu viewed from above. It has no dorsal fin and its tail fins spread out to the sides, making it look beautiful

   Shubunkin were produced in 1892 through selective breeding. This variety of goldfish looks dazzling like a brocade carp, with a unique light blue color all over its body in addition to red, black, and white. It has tail fins that look like elongated versions of crucian carp tails.
   Shubunkin are a variety produced by crossbreeding a colorful type of Demekin called Kyariko Demekin together with a crucian carp.
   This variety is the predecessor to the Bristol Shubunkin that are bred in the UK and are well known for their heart-shaped tail fins.



   In 1951, a variety known as Edo-nishiki was produced using two varieties called Ranchu and Azuma-nishiki.
   This variety has patterns in light blue, red, white, black, and other dazzling colors that are visible through its translucent scales. Just like Ranchu, this variety has no dorsal fin, and it has short tail fins that spread out to the sides.

Edo-nishikiare produced by crossbreeding a Ranchu (top left) with an Azuma-nishiki (bottom left)

Goldfish Toys and Wind-Bells Are Familiar Seasonal Items that Make You Feel Cool in the Summer

   You can see how goldfish have been loved in Japan for many years by looking at the decorations and toys that mimic the appearance of goldfish.
   Goldfish always look cool as they swim in water, so people are familiar with goldfish in that they make you feel cool in the summer.
   Tinplate goldfish toys are nostalgic items among grown-ups in Japan. These toys can be seen floating in kids’ paddling pools and baths, or in the shape of watering cans for watering plants.

A tinplate goldfish toy. You play with this toy by floating it on water

A goldfish-shaped watering can

A hand towel and flat hand fan (Uchiwa) featuring pictures of goldfish

Wind-bells create sounds that make you feel cool when the wind blows

   Ryukin have long tail fins and round bodies with a red color, and are often depicted in designs and illustrations featuring goldfish.

A Noren curtain featuring goldfish

   There is also a type of folk handicraft called “goldfish lanterns” with lights inside them used for illumination. The region that produces these goldfish lanterns also holds a festival themed around goldfish lanterns.

“Goldfish lanterns” are a type of folk handicraft from Yanai City in Yamaguchi Prefecture

In the summer, the city holds a festival themed around goldfish lanterns

   If you visit Japan, it will be very difficult to bring back real-life goldfish with you even if you do find yourself captivated by them. However, you can bring cute goldfish products with you, and they might even bring delight to other people as souvenirs.

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