TS koi is just the Japanese word for "carp." The Differences Between "Koi" and "Carp"
Koi fish have infiltrated out western culture and show no signs of retreat. Everywhere I look I see koi tattoos, koi fish ponds, and even koi jewelry and clothing. What makes the koi so appealing to westerners? It may be several things. Most of them are drawn from the false assumption that "koi" is simply the Japanese word for "carp," causing many young hipsters to run right out and get a koi fish tattoo because it means strength, courage, and spiritual aspirations. Let's begin with the real history of the koi fish, and move on to the mythology.
The koi we know today is believed to be a descendent of the common carp. For centuries, Asian farmers had been putting carp in with their rice paddies in order to sell both rice and fish. In nature, the carp is found in plain brown and green colors but around the 17th century Japanese carp farmers discovered that a few had developed orange and white spots. Through selective breeding, these farmers developed the koi fish we know today. The practice of breeding koi took off rapidly when the farmers introduced the koi to Tokyo fish expeditions. Soon, people from all over Japan were breeding koi to come up with new, colorful patterns.
Let's review. This fish was bred on a farm, not found in the wild. Then, Japanese aristocrats began breeding them in their gardens. The fish was never found in the wild, never released into the wild, and would probably die rather quickly if it somehow found it's way into the wild. Keep that in mind as you read the rest of this passage.
Many tattoo artists will tell you that the koi has been a symbol of perseverance and strength for thousands of years. This is just plain silly because koi fish didn't even come into existence until the mid-1800s. It is far more likely that legends about the common carp, or even fish in general, were simply carried over to the koi fish.
There is a Chinese legend of a "koi" fish that swam upstream, encountering many obstacles, in its quest for enlightenment. When it reached the top, it turned into a dragon. While this story is a touching metaphor, it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. Koi fish have been a "domesticated" fish nearly since their creation, being kept in garden ponds. Koi fish are not found in the wild and probably would not survive very long if they were released into a common pond or lake. It is far more likely that a common carp was the original protagonist of the myth.
Many believe that the koi fish is a symbol of strength, courage, and good luck. Many also believe that the words "carp" and "koi" are interchangeable, which probably led to this confusion. A koi fish is much more symbolic of beauty, success (you'd have to be successful to be able to afford this expensive fish!), and I'll even give you good luck, since the original farmers certainly got lucky with their mutant carp fish. The koi fish is just a very beautiful fish that many people are seeking to decorate their bodies or their gardens with. And that's fine. The koi fish are a gorgeous breed, and very calming to watch swim about. But they are not associated with strength through adversity, dragons, or even (as one classmate said) "the symbol of the samurai." They are just pretty fish.
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