How Yamatokoriyama’s local community is letting the world know about their local area—the one and only “town of goldfish”!
As you walk in the vicinity of the station of Kintetsu-Koriyama Station, you will encounter goldfish all around you. The gracefully swimming figures of these creatures are portrayed on manhole covers, bollards, fences and other public objects; live goldfish even swim in a converted microwave oven on show in an electrical goods store’s display window and inside a telephone box in one of the cafes.
The station itself even houses a fishtank that has been transformed into a ticket gate, and was awarded a Best Artwork prize in a nationwide goldfish-themed interior design competition. Items like “Goldfish Soda” and “Goldfish Anmitsu” (a type of traditional Japanese jelly) are found on the menu of a restaurant on a shopping street. It goes without saying that the local mascot of Yamatokoriyama is a goldfish character, “Kintotto.” This mascot is the community’s way of letting the world know about the “town of goldfish.”
Strolling along the streets of the town looking out for goldfish images is one of the pleasures of a trip to Yamatokoriyama.
Yamatokoriyama: a town whose long history is intimately interwoven with goldfish
The custom of keeping goldfish is believed to date back more than 2,000 years. Goldfish are believed to have come originally from reddish-colored specimens that were discovered among the wild carp that live in southern China. Goldfish came to Japan in the middle of the Muromachi Period (1336-1573); at this time, goldfish were kept by the nobility and wealthy people of the day for their personal amusement.
The rearing of goldfish in Yamatokoriyama traces its origins back around 300 years. It is said to have started when Yanagisawa Yoshisato, a prominent lord of the 17th and 18th centuries, moved to Yamatokoriyama from his native region of Yamanashi Prefecture.
During the 19th century, retainers of the family began to raise goldfish as a supplementary source of income, and the industry became a very popular sideline among both former retainers and farmers who lost their livelihoods following the Meiji Restoration of 1868.
Numerous ponds that were used to hold water for farming were found in Yamatokoriyama, and the abundance of water fleas found in these made the perfect food for young goldfish. In other words, the town has long had all the right conditions for goldfish rearing due to the natural environment it enjoys, as well as its historical background.
During the 1960s, production levels in Yamatokoriyama’s goldfish-rearing industry rose year after year due to economic development and advances in cultivation techniques. The town began supplying goldfish not only to the rest of Japan but to other countries, including in Europe and Southeast Asia.
Currently, the industry is smaller than it was at its peak, but there are still around 50 goldfish farmers in Yamatokoriyama, and around 60 hectares of land in the town are devoted to goldfish cultivation. Annually, around 60 million fish are sold, bringing fame to Yamatokoriyama as Japan’s leading “town of goldfish.”
The atmospheric neighborhoods of the town, where the air of the “castle town” can still be felt: another draw of Yamatokoriyama
The ruins of old Koriyama Castle are included in Japan’s top hundred ranking of the finest spots in Japan for viewing cherry blossom, as well as being a place where visitors can appreciate a particularly Japanese esthetic from up close.
This place dates back to around 430 years ago, when the old castle was built by Tsutsui Junkei (a warrior who served the famed warlords Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi); Toyotomi Hidenaga, brother of the renowned Hideyoshi, also presided over this castle. The ruins and precincts have been made into a public park, and visitors are free to walk around and take a look.
Many small pathways still remain around the castle ruins, and visitors will enjoy getting lost in the network of little streets around the neighborhood. Around the streets are dotted many stores both old and new, creating a unique streetscape that fuses together the ancient and the modern. With its unique “castle town” atmosphere, this is a community of great charm.