By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR
Colorful nishikigoi swam gracefully in blue tanks at Nakaoka Center in Gardena last weekend as hundreds of koi enthusiasts gathered for the 36th annual Zen Nippon Airinkai Southern California Chapter koi show.
For the koi hobbyists the show is a chance to get together with friends and also showcase some of the beautiful fish they have cultivated. Chai Taevanitcharoen, whose koi took best mature honors, said the Southern California show is the most competitive in the country. Fish from 13 varieties and seven size categories were judged by koi experts, including two judges from Japan.
“This is the biggest koi show in the U.S. and it has the highest in fish quality,” said Taevanitcharoen.
Taevanitcharoen has been raising koi since 1979, said the koi is a peaceful hobby.
“If I’ve had a hard day, before I talk to the kids or wife, I look at the fish and let all the stress out. My heart rate goes down as I see the fish,” he said.
Among the vendors, Nobuyasu Koreeda helped to sell baby koi, donated by ZNA members, as a fundraiser for the group. ZNA Southern California Chapter has more than 300 members and is the largest and oldest ZNA chapter in the United States. Koreeda, a master gardener, maintains the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden at Cal State Long Beach, which also has a koi pond.
“You cannot have a Japanese garden without koi, just like black pines or bonsai,” said Koreeda. “These fish, they never fight with each other, they are the most peaceful fish. If there are newcomers, they are always welcome.”
Bred selectively for hundreds of years in Japan, most of the koi at the ZNA show fall into three categories: kohaku (white fish with red markings), sanke (white koi with red and black markings) and showa (black fish with red and white markings).
To the untrained eye, the fish looked uniformly beautiful although varying in size from fingerlings to nearly three feet long. For the judges, each fish in competition is judged by factors such as size, uniformity, brilliance of color and their bearing in the water.
All the ZNA members praised the hobby as a great way to relax. Alan Stein, a dentist from the San Fernando Valley, said he got into the hobby shortly after the Northridge earthquake in 1994. Among the pests to watch out for Stein said, are raccoons and blue herons, which can attack the fish.
“It’s a wonderful hobby, they are living works of art,” Stein said.