Art by Alexander Vasiljev, Copyright © 2017


Saturday, December 21, 2013


Years ago, when I kept a few varieties of goldfish other than ranchu, I ended up using Hikari Oranda Gold, Hikari Lionhead and Hikari Goldfish Wheat Germ pellets. Hikari brand manufactured by Japanese company Kyorin Co., Ltd. and available in most pet and aquarium stores and online in the USA.

Although, well suitable for ranchu, I no longer use two of the above mentioned diets. Hikari Oranda Gold and Hikari Goldfish Wheat Germ are floating pellets that I now stopped using after switching to sinking pellets. In addition, Hikari Oranda Gold has a tendency to promote swim bladder disease in goldfish, which I have witnessed several times.

In resent years the same company developed Saki-Hikari advanced diets, a "high tech" goldfish sinking pellets with probiotics, nicknamed as Saki-Green, Saki-Purple and Saki-Red. The added beneficial bacteria suppose to accelerate digestion and promote healthy digestive tract. At the moment, Saki-Purple is available in the USA while the other two can be bought from overseas suppliers in Japan, Hong Kong or Singapore.


Saki-Hikari Fancy Goldfish Color Enhancing (Saki-Purple) includes astaxanthin and spirulina as color enhancements (see ingredients below). Saki-Hikari Fancy Goldfish Extreme Color Enhancing (Saki-Red) contains pigment rich spirulina as a second ingredient along with marigold flower extract, astaxanthin and phaffia dried yeast (see ingredients below). I have been using Saki-Purple and can attest to a noticeable change in fish color brightness, even without presence of sunlight. I also purchased Saki-Red and intend to start using it in the spring, as it is most effective when the water temperature stays above 64 F (18°C). I will be using both Saki-Purple and Saki-Red as a supplement to a staple diet.

For ranchu staple diet I had to choose between Japan Ranchu Lord type D mini pellets (click here to buy), Saki-Hikari Fancy Goldfish Balance (Saki-Green) and Omega One Goldfish Pellets (made in USA). Based on reviews, ingredients and nutritional analyses I gave my preference to Japan Ranchu Lord (JRL).


JRL pellets are made with large amount of seaweed rich in vitamins and minerals, and contain EPA and DHA essential fatty acids. Unlike other brands, JRL does not include hard to digest wheat flour, fillers or binders (see ingredients below). The only drawback - it is the most expansive of all three mentioned staple diets. Omega one, on the other hand, is the most economical choice with less wheat products compared to Saki-Green. Nutritional analysis and ingredients for JRL, Hikari and Omega One brand pellets:

JRL -  crude protein - min 48.1%, crude fat - min 8.4%, crude fiber - max 4.4%, crude ash - max 14.1% 
Ingredients: whole fish-meal, squid, seaweed, soy, krill, yeast, vitamins, minerals

Saki-Green -  crude protein - min 45%, crude fat - min 5%, crude fiber - max 3%, crude ash - max 20%   
Ingredients: fish meal, wheat germ, flour, beer yeast, starch, gluten meal, soybean meal, fish oil, vegetable oil, seaweed powder, probiotics, carotenoids, vitamins, minerals 

Hikari Lionhead -  crude protein - 
min 46%, crude fat - min 6%, crude fiber - max 5%, crude ash - max 12%  
Ingredients: fish meal, wheat flour, soybean meal, krill meal, brewers dried yeast, fish oil, vegetable oil, seaweed meal, spirulina, DL-methionine, astaxanthin, rice bran, vitamins, minerals

Saki-Purple -  crude protein - 
min 45%, crude fat - min 7%, crude fiber - max 3%, crude ash - max 20% 
Ingredients: fish meal, wheat germ meal, soybean meal, wheat flour, brewers dried yeast, starch, dried bakery product, gluten meal, fish oil, spirulina, vegetable oil, rice bran, seaweed meal, astaxanthin, dried Bacillus subtilis fermentation product, vitamins, minerals

Saki-Red -  crude protein - min 46%, crude fat - min 7%, crude fiber - max 2%, crude ash - max 19% 
Ingredients: fish meal, spirulina, wheat flour, wheat germ meal, soybean meal, brewers dried yeast, dried bakery product, gluten meal, fish oil, phaffia dried yeast, extracted marigold flower meal, vegetable oil, astaxanthin, rice bran, seaweed meal, probiotics, vitamins, minerals

Omega One  -  crude protein - 
min 33%, crude fat - min 8%, crude fiber - max 2%, crude ash - max 8%  
Ingredients: whole salmon, whole herring, whole shrimp, wheat flour, wheat gluten, fresh kelp, soy flour, astaxanthin, vitamins, minerals

As it is true with all pellets, you have to be carful with amount fed to the fish. Pellets are highly nutritious and overfeeding leads to obesity. Also, it is important to remember that dry pellets have longer digestion time of up to 2 hrs or more. It is necessary to alternate pellets with easily digestible foods like frozen bloodworms, brine shrimp and plant foods including algae.

My preference for frozen food is Hikari brand, especially for bloodworms. If not sterilized, bloodworms can become a source of pathogenic bacteria causing verity of infections in ranchu. Kyorin Co. uses 3-step sterilization process to produce free of bacteria and parasites frozen foods.


Based on time of the year, I alternate between easily digestible food and pellets. When the water temperature drops between 55-64 F (13-18°C), I feed 2 to 4 times a day with mostly brine shrimp and bloodworms. When the temperatures stabilizes above 65 F (18°C), I feed 5 times a day, where pellets are given more often. I keep at least 2 - 2.5 hour interval between the feedings.

Since ranchu are prone to obesity the amount of food is very important. I have adopted a "five minute rule", when I give as much food as the fish collectively will eat in 5 minutes. Food amount and feeding frequency gets periodically adjusted depending on the ranchu overall appearance.

There are much more food choices out there, including gel food and of course "do it yourself". But for now, I think I have enough diverse diet to offer. With balancing of what I currently feed, my ranchu already showing good results. The growth rate is normal for their age and the wen (head-growth) continues to develop well. To summarize, here is what I feed to my ranchu:

 dry pellets - Japan Ranchu Lord type D, Saki-Purple and Saki-Red, Hikari Lionhead

 frozen food - Hikari brine shrimp and bloodworms 

 plant food - shelled green peas, pumpkin, spinach, algae

One more thing. I am working on cultivating Wolffia, a floating plant that belongs to duckweeds. Why? Read about it in my future post.

Happy & Safe Holidays!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013


Almost a month later since I have posted "Sticking to the Rules" the bottom and walls of the pond are covered with green and brown (diatoms) algae and cyanobacteria. Provided enough light the "bio film" grows fast colonizing every surface under water. Understandably, due to negative impact on aquarium's ornamental look algae are considered a nuisance by aquarium hobbyists. At the same time, it is a great food supplement for aquarium inhabitants and definitely ranchu, as well as it takes part in nitrogen cycle.

Ranchu grazing on algae

There is a step further into cultivating algae. The method is called "green water". "Green water" contains a suspension of phytoplankton composed of photosynthesizing algae and bacteria and is achieved by providing enough bright light and nutrition for the algae to grow. The water turns green to brownish and becomes translucent. Ranchu that kept in "green water" feed constantly on suspended phytoplankton. Japanese breeders often say: "ranchu is made with green water". Best shape and health of ranchu can be achieved with this method.

However, raising ranchu in clear water with substantial algae growth, as I do currently, is as beneficial as "green water" method. The fish is free to graze on algae between the main meals. Algae and cyanobacteria are a great source of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and pigments. In addition, it has positive pro-kinetic effect on digestive tract of ranchu.

With a very plain look of my pond and no substrate or plants, algae and cyanobacteria create an attractive natural looking background for the bright red ranchu!

Monday, December 9, 2013


Hobby of keeping ranchu isn't something you can attend to when you want to. It becomes an occupation. Keeping any animal requires a commitment, but keeping fish takes it to a different level. Humans and fish live in two different states of matter, gas and liquid. Unlike many other "pet" animals that share gas environment with us, fish must be in its own "liquid habitat". Creating that habitat and understanding how it effects the fish is a challenge that makes this hobby unique and exciting.

So, I am excited and wanted to recognize the beginning of my hobby with my own emblem, or a MON (). I used the best tool I know - Photoshop, to create the mon by using only circles and half circles. This allowed me to stylize a top view ranchu with minimal lines, yet displaying most of the attributes of a priced fish.

Ranchu mon by Alexander Vasiljev

I also made my first attempt to write RANCHU in hiragana characters らんちゅう. Shodou or Japanese calligraphy, or any calligraphy for that matter, is an amazing art form. I consider shodou to be one of the most complex art forms that mind and hand can produce together. The brush stroke can not be redone and calligrapher gets only one chance for a particular piece of paper to write a statement. That writing will reflect the calligrapher in that very moment in time. Below is my humble attempt to write the name reflecting on bold and graceful movement of a swimming ranchu.

Saturday, November 30, 2013


As my study of top view ranchu continues, I have been looking into ranchu standards and qualities promoted by the Japan Ranchu Association. Now, I better understand what is priced and what is disregarded about the ranchu. I learned that the most important characteristic of a high quality ranchu, apart from its physical attributes, is how the ranchu swims and displays its dignity. The work of its tail and the balance and strength with which the fish is propelled forward are outmost important signs of a well bred and groomed ranchu.

I have looked through many breeders, both here in the USA, as well as in Thailand, Singapore and of course Japan, who develop their own ranchu bloodlines. Since ranchu is a live animal art form, it only makes sense that each ranchu "creator" will pursue certain characteristics that are distinctive and unique to them.

It is easy to get involved in illusive search for a PERFECT ranchu. What I understand now is - the closer you get to a perfect ranchu, the more you realize its faults. Japanese ranchu masters often say "You get the tail, you lose the head. You get the head you loose the tail". Others say - "There are more faults in ranchu than merits".

All in all, the ranchu is a fascinating creature that was designed after mythical animals. Tatsu-gashira means dragon head and shishi-gashira means mythical lion head, are the two main inspirations for creating a ranchu head. The ranchu head is covered with overgrown and expended epidermis and mucous cells known as wen that develops in a certain way to give an appearance of mentioned above mythical animals.

Head growth or wen develops on one of my tosai ranchu
Shishi head, Kyoto school, carved ivory

Depending on the bloodline, the head-growth will start to develop during the first weeks, reaching its desired look within a year or two. The head-growth will continue to develop throughout the ranchu's life.  

Nisai ranchu head growth, Gorin Club, Japan

Oya ranchu, Gorin Club, Japan

The tail is another very important part of a ranchu. It must be symmetrical and be of a certain shape. When it moves it should resemble the opening of a cherry blossom or the bottom part of a kimono dress, that flips out and back during the walk. Besides its visual quality, the tail must perform its function to move the fish with grace and strength. 

Kimono dress, Kabuki Theater

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


Finally, the colder time is here. Despite that it is the last month of the fall, it was warm until now. With the winter right around the corner, the temperatures are now to remain low and it is a slower time for ranchu. Even indoors, the water temperature has dropped to 60 F (15 C) and has a tendency to fluctuate 5-8 degrees. The fall can be vulnerable time for ranchu. Good water quality and reduced feedings if temperature stays below 64 F (18 C) are necessary. 

Above are some of my ranchu photographed today.

Monday, November 25, 2013


An interesting documentary project "Kingyo Kingdom" is completed by creative couple Revital Cohen and Tuur Van Balen, known as Cohen Van Balen.

KINGYO means goldfish in Japanese and the project is focused on ranchu - a king of goldfish. Ranchu is considered a live animal art form and can be compared to a bonsai, a live plant art form. It belongs to a part of Japanese culture that is centered around manipulation of nature. Ranchu are bred and selected to strictly adhere to ideals created for this type of fish.

Click here for a preview of the "Kingyo Kingdom" documentary


The bio-mechanical filter in the sump tank is working perfectly. Ammonia and nitrite levels stay very low and nitrates are under 40-80 ppm with tendency to accumulate. Bio-film of algae and bacteria growth has starter to appear at the bottom of the pond , which is desirable and will give the fish something to snack on and also improves the water quality.

 Bio-film of algae and bacteria is forming on the bottom of the pond

With all this positive water filtering, I adhere to one of the traditional ranchu keeping rules - weekly 100% water changes, or in my case more likely 85-90 %, as some water remains in the sump tank. With working filter ammonia and nitrite levels are very low, so my water changes mainly reduce nitrate level, which can't be utilized naturally and effectively in my existing system. I use municipal water and do not add anything expect the water conditioner to neutralize mainly chlorine and chloramine, which are deadly to the fish.

Even though the water can be tested for ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, pH etc. and show the "norm", there are other signs that can indicate water quality shift. Smell, color and foaming on the surface, along with how the fish behaves are all great indicators if the water change is needed. Daily fish observations are so important along with knowing how to read their behavior. Still, so much to learn here!

Friday, November 22, 2013


To house the fish I ordered a 120 gal fiberglass pond (L 96 in x W 24 in x H 12 in).

Fiberglass Pond

In traditional ranchu keeping there are no conventional filters used, besides algae growth and an air-stone. Absence of filter requires 100% water changes every 4-7 days. Most importantly, it requires you being available to do the water change every 4-7 days. Pretty tough commitment for a traveling enthusiast like me.

So, I had to have a back up and designed a filter for mechanical and biological filtration to control ammonia and nitrites levels. A stand alone sump tank housing various mechanical and biological filter media would perform this role. After many consultations with the folks on a couple of forums, I have come up with the final design. I loaded the chambers with Eheim Substrate Pro Bio Medium and Seachem Laboratories Matrix Medium for biological filtration. For biological/mechanical filtration I used Matala Filter Media mats, two more finer filter pads and to "polish" the water - filter-floss.

Sump Tank, Side View

The water is pumped from the pond into the sump tank and then let flow back to the pond through the media by the gravity. I also placed two large air-stones in the pond hooked up to an air pump.

Entire System Set Up, Top View

The pond was set up in my apartment and had to look esthetically pleasing with most wires and hoses being hidden away. So, I designed and built the inclosure, trying to complement the fish in the most humble way. My goal was to achieve a good balance between functionality and esthetics. I even used plants around the pond commonly called "cast-iron plant" Aspidistra elatior from Japan. Ironically, its leaves were traditionally used for preparation of sushi battera style. Shh, I will never reveal this to my ranchu.

Almost Finished Pond Set Up

I wanted to have a water feature to complement the installation and came up with an idea of a bamboo aqueduct. I used a second "miniature" pump to pump small amount of water from the sump tank into the bamboo "pipe". The water runs through a couple of bamboo pipes, creating a beautiful trickling sound and gets aerated before porting back to the pond.



For millennia several species of carp were raised in China for food.

Common Carp

It was not until the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD), when the first mention of mutated "silver" to "gold" carp appeared. These fish were separated from the prussian carp and bred selectively. Chinese ornamental goldfish was born and its many verities started to emerge. One particular variety was crucial in developing a modern Japanese ranchu - the so called egg-fish with no dorsal fin and egg-shaped body.

From China the goldfish was brought to Japan by the Dutch merchants during the Edo Period (1603-1868) and was first mentioned as maruko in Yoshiyuki Adachi's book about goldfish published in 1748. Maruko fish had no head-growth.

It took over a hundred years to shape this goldfish to what we see today. In a second half of the 19th century, Tokyo resident Kameyoshi Ishikawa formed a group of goldfish enthusiasts, who gave birth to a modern ranchu and set the first standards. Mr.Ishikawa began to organize ranchu shows and aided in a great popularity of this type of goldfish in Japan.

Women Selecting Goldfish, Japanese Woodblock Print
And now here they are, the latest champion ranchus from the All Japan Ranchu Show, 2013. Three categories are shown:

OYA (Parent Fish) - fish reached the third calendar year or older
NISAI (Second-year Fish) - fish reached the second calendar year
TOSAI (Yearling) - fish hatched in the current calendar year




Traditionally these goldfish were viewed from above, swimming in a pond or a ceramic bowl. And so the Japanese ranchu were created to be viewed from above. They are often referred to as TVR - abbreviation for top view ranchu. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013


As far as I remember, I had always been interested in goldfish. As I got to know more about them, my interest has narrowed down to verieties lacking the dorsal fin. Among which are commonly known "lionhead", "celestial" and "bubble" eye. Ultimately, my dream fish became Japanese top view ranchu, a type of "lionhead" goldfish that was developed in Japan to be viewed from above.
 Mid-century Chinese porcelain figurine

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Finally they are here!, swimming in my shoe storage tub from Ikea, that I equipped with an air stone, as their temporary home. In a couple of days they will be transferred to their permanent place - a pond that I built for them.

Two fish are six and three are five month old. They are Japanese top view ranchu, known in Japanese ranchu terminology as TOSAI - a fish that is born in the current year. Like having a first child, I eager to learn how to take care of "IT" and not to make mistakes. So, I went on blogs and forums and asked and listen, and asked again. I listened to everyone who had something to say and give direction. I absorbed it all and my head is spinning, and I need time to sort it all out and actually understand what it all means. I eager to start building my own experience.

It all brought back memories when we had our first son. The advice and help was overwhelming. Relatives and friends all contributed with "how to". Some advices didn't make sense and some confused, and some sounded right. As probably for all new parents, this mixed information overwhelmed us in our desire to raise a healthy baby. We paused, took a deep breath and decided to give ourselves a try, relying first on our parental instincts and then on all goodhearted advice.

Learn from others, make your own observations, adjust and then apply, then observe more and correct - that is what we learned from it. Now, I am experiencing a similar feeling of being overwhelmed with my goldfish. Time will show and the fish will tell ...

... and here they are: