Art by Alexander Vasiljev, Copyright © 2017


Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Compared to a fairly intense spring and part of summer that I had been busy with the spawn, now it is a "quiet time" for me, time to contemplate. Being constantly self-dragged into evaluating, comparing and nitpicking my ranchu for all their good and bad, I had to remind myself to simply contemplate them. While watching these amazing fish swim around the pond, I often ask myself what is it about them that is so alluring?

Fish-keeping in general, is a fascinating hobby, offering a window into a waterworld and an intimate look at its inhabitants. In my opinion, goldfish, with its many varieties, add another dimension to this hobby. Literally, goldfish are fantasy fish, created after mythical creatures like the imperial guardian lion (shi), dragon or a phoenix.

The Chinese proverb "Carp leaps over the Dragon Gate" (鲤鱼跳龙门) points to a legend about the carp that jumped over a great waterfall at the Dragon Gate on Yellow River and turned into a dragon. The challenge remained so huge, that scarcely any carp could succeed. This made me think that the ranchu might be that "carp" that leaped over the Dragon Gate. The proverb is a metaphor for those who are successful. Persistent in overcoming considerable challenges, Japanese goldfish keepers created the ranchu. Maybe the dragon-like head of a ranchu (tatsu-gashira) is a testimonial to those who triumphed and continue to do so through their hard work. 

Ranchu are a powerful fish, yet they are reserved and their movements are well measured. I watch them swim calmly and elegantly by the water surface making waves, and I am hypnotized by their unhurried motion and feel their calm transferred onto me. 

So, where does this "ranchu" attraction come from? Could it be because I was born under the sign of the Wood Dragon that I am drawn to ranchu? Or maybe it is in the notion that ranchu are more mythical fish than we think. They remind us that one should not waste their life hoping to have it all at a distant point in time, instead one should embrace the joy of the journey itself and learn to appreciate each moment, the path to contentment. Maybe this is the secret to conquering the "Dragon Gate"?

Antique Japanese ivory netsuke "Dragon Carp" by Ryugetsu, early 1900s'