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You might have thought you were feeding the best food? Or didn't know which one was best? Here's how to tell!

Little Japan

 This is a relatively short article on a valuable experience I had in Southern California. It’s actually a “discovery” really. I think it’s relevant to you, the fish keeper, because of an opportunity it represents.

 Abstract: You can fly into Los Angeles and be within ninety minutes of the majority of the very best Koi importers in the US. Take two days and have the fish shipped home to your house. Because of their proximity, dealers are competing so you can save money on top quality fish. Choose from thousands of small fish. Eat real food and be home in 4-6 hours.


There are no Koi in the world that can compare to the finest ones offered by the Japanese breeder. Japanese Koi are beautiful and are chosen based on their looks. Buying Koi “on looks” is done in one of two ways. You may buy a Koi because it pleases YOUR eye, or you may buy a Koi for Koi JUDGES’ admiration. Either way you’re buying “on looks” and sometimes you may buy a fish that satisfies your eye AND a judge’s eye. Lucky you!

 When you want excellent Japanese fish, you can fly all the way to Japan in a little tiny Coach class seat for 17-24 hours. In Japan, you will dine on steamed vegetables and small cooked delicacies so far removed from American barbecue as to defy suitable description. You’ll drop thousands of bucks to get there, and tens of pounds to stay there. OR you can go to “Little Japan”.

 In “Little Japan” you will see some of the best fish sent to the United States, from the best Japanese breeders.

 I call Southern California “Little Japan” because there are SO MANY dealers of Japanese import Koi there. The purpose of this article is to explain WHY this ‘geographic phenomena’ matters, and what the opportunities are.

 When you go to Little Japan, you save a LOT of money and a LOT of time. Since you’re not flying to Japan, you can hop a plane and be in Little Japan in a few hours. When you land, you’re bright eyed and ready to shop. You can rent a car and access about nine different places with GREAT FISH, all on American soil.

 Does this matter? YES IT DOES.

First, the dealers in Little Japan (Southern California) have handled the importation, the sicknesses that can come from that, and the quarantine. You don’t have to go to Japan and then pay the exorbitant shipping of your prize fish back home to the States. You don’t have to bring the fish over and worry they’ll die after the long flight. Generally, you don’t buy sick fish because the dealers in Little Japan have already intercepted these through suitable quarantine practices. You simply make a domestic flight and pay domestic shipping to your house when you pick out the healthy Koi you want.

 The second advantage to the domestic purchasing of Imported fish is that these dealers in Little Japan are all clustered together. This holds pricing down. Let’s say you flew into Atlanta, and asked where to buy great Japanese fish. You might find great fish, but you’re not going to see great pricing because there isn’t the kind of competition that there is in Little Japan.

 When I went to Southern California I was quite surprised what a hundred bucks would buy among small fish of great quality. VERY high quality at VERY competitive pricing.

 By the end of the day, I’d seen four or five dealers with SUPERB fish and I realized I could have (buying several of the best fish from each) fleshed out a large collector-quality group of fish from among these dealers, probably for well under $5,000.oo

 They Have Tons of Small Fish

 Small fish tend to be less expensive than big fish. And they ship for less.

So let’s say you studied the Koi Selection writings of Dr Art Lembke, and you read the judging work of Dr Galen Hansen, and then Doug Dahl, and the rest. And you even joined ZNA and got their Nichirin magazine and then Koi USA Judges’ Corner. With a little “self help” you could position yourself to assess smaller fish (more affordable) and make some dandy selections. Selections which ship cheaply to your house.

 The fact that they have TONS of small, very high quality fish does several things.

With supply so high, the dealer is reluctant to jack up the price. It’s all supply and demand. If the supply tends to be abundant and very high in quality, pricing has to sustain demand.

 Southern California contains a dense population of high-end connoisseurs in the Koi hobby, and these people expect and demand selection! This is why these eight or nine dealers in Little Japan carry such a wide variety. This is a ‘Good Thing’ for you if you visit Little Japan. You can go through these eight or nine vendors of fine Japanese fish and you will surely find one of each and every kind of Koi ever bred. From Midori to Ochiba to Akama Ki Goi to Beni Kumonryu – not to mention ubiquitous Kohaku, Showa and Sanke so plentiful and so beautiful as to become almost mundane.

 They’re Nice (And it Matters)

Kenzen Koi Food
There's a bunch of people feeding this food and for good reason. It's got a good formulation with a decent price.
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Yeah, these dealers are nice. Lots of Koi dealers are nice. This isn’t really that rare at face value, but these dealers in Little Japan are just nice. I got to talk to a fellow names Shawn at Mystic Koi and he seemed willing to spend some time and tell me more about the very good fish. He pointed out some “better than average” baby Koi in a teeming tank full. I should have said, “Bag ‘Em” but I missed the chance. Everywhere I went, the dealers seemed to have a passion for Koi and they were all very liberal with their impressions of the better fish. At Eastern Nishikigoi, Ken, Hong, and several others on staff could advise on selection of good Koi, at a good value. Ben Plonski at Laguna Koi was helpful and friendly. He had some very rare oddities.

 The reason for the comment above is that you don’t actually have to be an expert on Koi to go make reasonable selections on affordable fish that will turn out very attractively. Since these dealers I am telling you about are very experienced and quite courteous, you could go to Little Japan with little more than a copy of Rinko or Nichirin with your favorites circled and let them show you fish that would probably end up looking similar to the fish you admire.

 Look For Imperfect Bargains

 The dealers in Little Japan have imported thousands upon thousands of fish. Many of these fish were purchased at farms in Niigata, Japan, and were viewed only fleetingly in the mud pond seine nets when purchased. When the fish arrive at the airport in Los Angeles, some of the fish are discovered to have a ‘trench’ in the dorsal fin. Parrot mouth. Healed ulcerations, or missing or damaged fins. A buggered eye, or even a kink in the tail.

 Because the selection of show quality fish is so high in Little Japan, it’s hard to sell an otherwise beautiful (but physically imperfect) Koi for “full price” and so great values can be found. So, when you go to Southern California, please be sure to ask about “Dent and Scratch” fish that would qualify for show by pattern and color but which might be missing an eye, patch of scales, or a fin. Believe me, these fish exist in fair numbers, and are a real pleasure to own. Your wallet will thank you, and the fish appreciate you, too.

 What is Little Japan?

 Little Japan is a region of Southern California that spans about a ninety-mile area. Within that ninety-mile area you could visit:

  • Andrew Moo’s place
  • Roland at Toyoma Koi
  • Shawn and Bill at Mystic Koi
  • Ken and Hong at Eastern Nishikigoi
  • Ben at Laguna Koi
  • Taro Kodama’s place


Helpful Tips and Tricks For Little Japan

This is just between me and you – so don’t go someplace and say, “Erik Johnson said to ask you about…” …because it won’t win you ANY points or carry any weight at all. What I’m going to mention is just so your trip out to Little Japan is as fun as it can be.

Stay two or maybe three days. You will probably need two (maybe three) days to make the rounds of all these different vendors. If you stay a few days, you may need to negotiate leaving the fish for pickup before your departure, or better still, have the dealer ship the fish directly to you when you get home.

Bring some cash and your credit card. Cash is sometimes powerful leverage if properly done. The credit card is for when you see that “Must Have” goliath Kindai Showa at Ken’s.

How to hurt yourself with cash:

Flashing a big fat bankroll is a bad idea. Flashing money has got a “show-off” flavor to it, and it says, ”I can pay more because I am SO loaded!” – and you probably will!

But conspicuously counting a thin stack of hundreds while considering a fish says, “I am a cash customer, but I am definitely not loaded.”

Sometimes you can get a better deal if you are working with cash. Don’t EVER be so crude as to ASK for a “cash discount”. That’s rude. But it doesn’t diminish the fact that if they see cash, sometimes they’re more inclined to make a deal “for accounting reasons”. By the same token, if they see American Express, they can’t negotiate as much because American Express pounds the dealers for up to six or seven percent when all is said and done.

Don’t “haggle” per se!! But never hesitate to mention, “I love these fish but I doubt my pocketbook can handle all three of them!” and wait to see if the dealer says, “Since you’re buying all three of them, I can do better on that one.”

So, if you negotiate, be exceedingly gentle and polite, and realize these folks can (and will) sell your chosen beautiful fish to the next person coming into the store. Negotiate on larger, or multiple purchases, generally not on ONE fish.

Sometimes, better than any discount, would be the privilege of having fish selections HELD for payment till tomorrow. If I had a choice between getting fifteen percent off a group of fish, or being able to come back and pay for the fish LATER, I would take LATER.

Here’s why: If you can choose your fish and leave them for payment tomorrow, you can shop around and POSSIBLY find a better fish. You can level with a dealer on this, or be non-specific as to why this would be a Good Thing for you.

Here’s an example: Let’s say I could buy a Kohaku and snag a ten percent discount if I hold my mouth right. OR I could negotiate leaving the fish (and payment for it) until tomorrow for convenience’s sake. I’d take the “tomorrow” deal and see what I could find at the next several places I plan to visit. (Maybe you don’t share this with the dealer.)

If I DO find a better fish, I saved myself the purchase price of the first, lesser-quality fish. If I do NOT find a better fish, I can go back to the dealer who’s holding my first Kohaku and pay full price, knowing I’ve been around and it’s the best little Kohaku in Little Japan!

NEVER, EVER criticize a fish as a means to get the price down. If you say “Well, the ‘motoguru’ on that pectoral fin is sort of crappy, compared to the other side, I don’t see how it’s worth three hundred dollars!” you may as well just forget it. You might as well drop your gum into the tank or knock over a food display while you’re at it. When you insult the fish, the shop owner will depart you, and a bored, glassy eyed employee will appear in their stead, and everything will simply be “Full price, ma’am, how many do you want?”

Here’s a treasure: You should be aware that there are always new groups of fish being brought into the shop and being prepped for sale by these dealers. This means that in many shops there are either “hold backs” which are too good for public offering, or new fish, which have not been sorted nor picked over. SOMETIMES if you ask really, REALLY sweetly, or if you’ve been very fair to the dealer in your other transactions, you can ask to see the fish in THAT tank, (yeah, that one over there), behind that gate. SOMETIMES they will let you peruse and even purchase some of the treasures in those non-public tanks. This is a very cool way to get unique and good fish. When and if you get access to the “new fish” [or the fish they haven’t sorted into groups], you should assure the dealer that since they are NOT finished with quarantine you will NOT hold them responsible AND you should realize that the fish will be priced according to quality and not by size. Tate-goi, personal gifts from the breeders and fish specially selected for other customers can be in these groups and may not be for sale. Don’t get your feelings hurt.

But being able to “cherry pick” un-categorized, un-picked-over new groups of fish is possibly the highest sign of respect a dealer can give you.

So how does a trip to Little Japan compare to a trip to Real Japan?

Well, you would surely LOVE either trip. I don’t mean in ANY way to diminish the sophistication, opportunity, and fun of going to Japan. I just decline on the basis of “No Big Guy In Small Plane Seat.”


So Cal    Japan
You’ll See Lots Of Impeccable Fish      Yes      Only More
You’ll Meet Many Different Dealers   Yes     Yes
You See Every Variety of Koi:          Yes          Yes
You Can Eat Hamburgers and Recognizable Meat:    Yes        Probably Not. 
You Will Get Good Pricing: Yes         Probably*       
You Will Fool With USFWS On Importation          No         Yes
You Can Fret About Diseases and Shipping Stress:       Less       More   
You’ll Experience Japanese Culture:         Less             More
You’re home in 4-5 hours        Yes               No
Passport No                    Yes
Plane Ticket            $400           $2,400

  *If you go to Japan and you’re a fast-talking, gum-popping haggler negotiating “Gimme four for the price of three” discounts for himself, you will probably “cheese off” the first breeder you see. This breeder will politely leave you alone and let you choose from his picked over [Sign says: best] fish and let you pay top dollar. Additionally, he will send word to the next farm that you are probably not going to show proper respect to the fish or the breeder, and so you will see just the picked-over fish there, too. And pay top dollar. Most ironic of all, you will never even know that you didn’t see the breeders’ best fish. Because they will still tell you these fish are the best on the farm. This is exactly how fast-talking, gum-popping Shysters who go to Japan ought to be treated.

 To close, I’d simply say that if a Koi enthusiast wanted an inexpensive, enjoyable and eye-popping Koi buying experience, a trip to Southern California would be the “ultimate” the US has to offer. You can’t go anywhere else and find so many top quality Koi dealers clustered so closely together which works wonders for selection and price. If you’re reasonable and fair, you will get great values and have new fish so gorgeous that your Koi crazy neighbors stop talking to you, out of sheer jealousy, for a month.

 Better still, grab your neighbor and take them with you to Little Japan. Heck, I also think a close-knit Koi club could organize a buying trip out there and have an absolute blast.

 Airport to Fly Into: Los Angeles

 Time of Year: Call ahead to each of the vendors, but early spring and late fall are generally good.

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