Some have streamlined bodies, and some are egg-shaped. Some have protruding eyes and some have long, graceful tails. Goldfish vary in shape, markings and color. As they elegantly swim around in a fish tank, they seem to be offering a glimpse of a tiny universe.
Goldfish are a traditional feature of summer in Japan. The more we learn about the small fish, the better we enjoy keeping them at home.
“I think people are fascinated by these domesticated fish that swim freely in their world of water — a place we can never live in,” said goldfish specialist Narumi Ono. “Goldfish are definitely a living work of art.”
Ono is the chief editor of the monthly magazine Kingyo Do (The way of goldfish), which is believed to be the only magazine of its kind in the world. He also operates a shop in Edowaga Ward, Tokyo, that sells goldfish and related goods. The ward is one of Japan’s three largest goldfish breeding areas.
While Ono is happy to see people relax just having goldfish around them, he recommends that goldfish owners study the history and culture of the fish and how we came to admire them.
Goldfish are believed to have been introduced to Japan from China in 1502. In the beginning, keeping the fish was a recreation of the privileged wealthy class. Later, around the middle of the Edo period (1603-1867), keeping goldfish also became a popular pastime for ordinary people. The fish were depicted in ukiyo-e and multicolored nishiki-e works created around that time.
“You can explore the depth of goldfish culture through such works,” Ono said. “This in itself is interesting.”
One challenge with selecting the kind of goldfish to keep is the abundance of choices — there are 20 to 30 types of goldfish available on the market.
Wakin, simply known as “goldfish” in English, are the most common type and look like miniature crucian carp. These fish are traditionally used for goldfish-scooping games at summer festivals in Japan.
The demekin, or telescope goldfish, has odd-looking protruding eyes. The ranchu has an egg-shaped body, with no dorsal fin, and is dubbed the “king of goldfish.”
The ryukin has a round body with a long, elegant tail.
People wanting to keep goldfish have two main options: taking an eclectic approach and collecting a variety of types, or being more selective and choosing to raise only one type.
Besides the traditional breeds, a variety of newly produced breeds — or even mutated breeds — are available.
The sakura wakin has vaguely outlined markings that resemble cherry blossom petals. The fuku daruma resembles ryukin but has a short caudal fin. The ping pong pearl is shaped like a round pearl.
Specialists work hard to produce new breeds, Ono said. “They like to show their new breeds off at goldfish competitions.”
Enjoying goldfish at home is easy: All that is needed is a fish tank, water plants, small pebbles and food. But one thing that goldfish beginners must not forget is to maintain an appropriate temperature in their tanks.
Goldfish can easily get sick if the water temperature varies by 5 C or more in a day, which often happens when seasons change. The ideal water temperature for goldfish is 20 C to 25 C.
The purity of the water is another important factor. Water right out of the tap is undesirable because it is chlorinated. Tap water should be left to sit overnight before it is used, or the water should be dechlorinated with a water conditioner.
“Keeping goldfish at home is a good opportunity for children to learn about life,” Ono said. “I recommend parents try it.”