Art by Alexander Vasiljev, Copyright © 2017


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: