Kingyo: The Artistry of Japanese Goldfish



5.0 out of 5 stars A visual riot of goldfish

When it comes to artistic and exotic Japanese fish, for most people Koi is the first thing to spring to mind, if anything. A Japanese garden would not seem complete without a few of those large, gold beauties swimming elegantly under a moon-curved bridge. Some might be reminded of the Betta, often called a Japanese Fighting Fish (Or a Chinese Fighting Fish, or a Siamese Fighting Fish, or any-other-Asian-country Fighting Fish…) Rarely would one think of a goldfish.

Goldfish (Kingyo, in Japanese) are as much of an element of Japanese art as koi, cranes, cherry blossoms and white-faced courtesans. Like these, they are appreciated both for their natural beauty as well as their representational picturation. “Kingyo: The Artistry of Japanese Goldfish” explores both of these sides, showcasing the many wonders of the long tradition of goldfish breeding as well as the influence of goldfish design in all aspects of Japanese art, be they ceramics, Ukiyo-e prints, kimonos, children’s toys or sword guards.

The photographs of the fish themselves are simply gorgeous. Set against a stark white background, all of the varieties of these highly-cultured living art-objects can be admired, from the calico ryukins to the bizarre suihogan with their giant bubble-like cheek pockets. Some breeds are more easily-appreciated than others, but all of these magnificent photographs show what they have to offer to full advantage. Rather than encumber these images with text, the information of the many breeds is bundled together near the rear of the book.

Along with the actual fish, there is a gallery of pretty much every conceivable type of Japanese art, emblazoned with goldfish. Fine ceramic dishes with subtle patterns, bright and inviting kimonos making the most of the golden color, carrying cases for tobacco and medicine, metal work such as sword guards and silver hairpins; there is clearly not an aspect of art that has remained untouched by these little swimmers. My personal favorites is the collection of Ukiyo-e prints, showing the people of Japan, high and low, enjoying the artistry of Japanese goldfish, from children scooping at them during fairs (an activity still popular in Japan today) to the moneyed classes displaying their latest acquisitions and exotic breeds.

In addition to this, there is a 63-page novella, “A Riot of Goldfish,” translated from Japanese and showing the goldfish’s influence and writing as well. The story is a fascinating tale of obsession, both in love and in attempting to breed the perfect goldfish. Matachi, the young goldfish breeder is swallowed whole by his art, as he attempts to express his love for the unattainable Masako, using living creatures as his medium. It is an unexpected and welcome addition to what is otherwise a picture book.

I really enjoyed “Kingyo: The Artistry of Japanese Goldfish,” much more so than I thought I would before I first picked it up. It made me a convert to the beauty of goldfish.


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