Mamoru Kodama is probably one of the most well-known Japanese dealers of Nishikigoi. This may be because of his many articles and books such as Kokugyo I, Kokugyo II, Kokugyo III, and Koishi: Creators of Living Jewels. But little has been discussed and written about him.
Mamoru Kodama is my father, a top Nishikigoi dealer whom I respect, owner of Miyoshiike Co. in Japan; and Kodama Koi Farm in Hawaii, USA. He is a type of person who devotes himself 100% to what he loves, in his case, Nishikigoi and never minds taking on new challenges to achieve his goal of having only the best koi for sale from Japan.
In 1967, he started his aquaculture company after working for Fresh Water Fisheries and Experiment Station of Aichi prefecture as a researcher for five years. At first, he grew anything from eel, trout, carp and more. But it was not long before he got attracted to the beauty and uniqueness of Nishikigoi. He says, “Koi is the only product that is valued by beauty, not by its weight.”
That was the beginning of his repetitious trips to Niigata, cradle of Nishikigoi. Nowadays it takes only 6 hours to drive up there, but it used to take a day trip. He does not even remember how many times he has visited breeders there; but every time he visited, he deepened relationships with breeders. These relationships he cultivated for 40 years are definitely his and his company’s assets that nobody else can compete with.
Winner of multiple Grand champion titles
He won grand champion titles 5 times at the All Japan Nishikigoi shows. He first won the big title with a beautiful Kohaku whose nickname is “This is Kohaku.” “When I close my eyes, I can still visualize its Hi quality and Fukurin vividly,” he says. Fukurin had been seen only on Ogon and judged only for Ogon at the time. “This is Kohaku” is probably the first Kohaku that showed the Fukurin so beautifully.
“Daiya no Kamen” is another memorable grand champion at the All Japan Nishikigoi Show. He still considers its body conformation as one of the best examples he has seen in his life. “The head is huge and is followed by its stout body like a big tree trunk, and it ends with a thick tail joint.”
Mamoru Kodama has raised many more champions like “Himiko”, “Loran”, and more. There are few who have raised and won the grand champion titles as many times as he has.
Growing beyond Japan
Established as the sharpest-eyed dealer of Nishikigoi, his desire for better did not stop. He then wanted the challenge of breeding Nishikigoi by himself. You would think he would start Koi breeding from his company’s location. But his passion and desire to be the best did not let him. He believed tropical weather worked better for Koi breeding and raising.
At the time, there was an opportunity to breed Koi and teach breeding in Taiwan; and he took it. He brought many high quality parental Koi from Japan and spent 2 years in Taiwan with good success. Some of his Koi even won Kokugyo (Best In Size) prize at All Japan Nishikigoi Show. With the experience, he decided to open a breeding farm down in Ishigaki Island, Okinawa. After 8 years, he had to stop the breeder operation because the koi dealer division became too busy and had to make him move back to the main store. But these 10 years of breeding experience gave him more insight and sharpened his eye for Nishikigoi.
In 1998, a year after I joined the company, we decided to launch a website to explore the international market. At the time, there was almost no Koi websites in Japan. Needless to say, there were no English Koi websites by any Japanese Koi dealer. The Internet gave him and his company connections to other countries. As he realized the market was growing worldwide, he began thinking of introducing Nishikigoi to even more customers. So he made another challenge: to open JKO Inc.in California, USA. He thinks it was a good move for three reasons: “First, it gives us the direct access to U.S. customers. Then we can introduce more beautiful Japanese Koi to many more customers. Last, it gives us more information about the Koi hobby in the U.S.”
He did realize, through talking to customers and providing many lectures, that there was a big need for Koi education. Koi information and knowledge had been misinterpreted by American dealers, and they had been given to end users as “correct information.” Remember, this was almost 20 years ago. Information was so limited.
“As a Japanese Koi dealer, I felt it is my responsibility to provide the appropriate knowledge to appreciate the beauty of Japanese Koi,” he said, remembering the moment which was the beginning of his new challenges: Kokugyo I and Kokugyo II. Each book easily took more than 2 years to compete. But the contents are thorough and has been recognized as the bible for Koi lovers.
When the large earthquake hit Niigata in 2004, he quickly organized “Save Nishikigoi Network” to share the situation of Koi breeders on the internet. He says, “I just could not wait and see my friends suffering.” He encouraged breeders in Niigata by visiting many times and at the same time, informed the world how breeders were working hard to recover. All the donations collected through the network was passed to Shinkokai (All Japan Nishikigoi Promotion Association).
The move to Hawaii
In 2006, the Kodama family faced another challenge: building Kodama Koi Farm in Hawaii. Many people asked, “Why Hawaii?” There are several reasons, but essentially we moved from California to Hawaii to better serve our customers with more higher quality Nishikigoi. What is noteworthy is Hawaii’s unique position. Not only is it close to Japan, which means less travel time for Koi; but it also is a part of the U.S., which means no documentation is needed to ship Koi to our customers. More importantly, since Hawaii is a group of isolated islands, import requirements are very strict. This requires Kodama Koi Farm to establish high standard quarantine procedures. It is time-consuming and expensive, but we see it positively since it benefits our customers.
Continuing to spread the love of Koi
Kokugyo III is his most recent publication. This book took more years than his previous three books. He carefully selected all the champions over 10 years from All Japan Koi Show and explains all the details. I must say this is the ultimate Koi book and a must-have for Koi lovers.
Mamoru Kodama is a man with passion for Nishikigoi. He always attempts new challenges because he has a passion to serve his customers with better and attractive Japanese Koi of which he is proud of.
*The article above was first written in 2007 and revised for this blogpost in 2018.