"Today again Mataichi scooped the tiny fish one by one into a shallow bowl and examined them carefully under the magnifying glass. Their colors had finally began to change, but it looked as if he had failed this year as well. Once more he had failed to breed the goldfish he had hopped for. Mumbling his disappointment, he tossed the bowl and magnifying glass onto the veranda and flopped down blank-faced with a thud."
Excerpt from "A Riot of Goldfish" by Kanoko Okamoto, translated by J. Keith Vincent
Although the story of goldfish in Japan starts back in the Edo Period (1603-1868), or by some accounts as early as the 1500's, the popularity of Japanese goldfish culture does not culminate until the 1800's, when goldfish no longer remained a privilege of the aristocracy and became accessible to the general public. At that time goldfish became firmly established in Japanese culture, many distinctly Japanese goldfish varieties were created and the goldfish motif spread deep into the art and design.
In Japan, as in all of the Orient, carp carries a strong symbolic meaning. It is highly possible that the roots of this symbolism began with Buddhism, where carp symbolize happiness. As Buddhism expanded throughout Asian countries, it brought along a reverence for carp. Along with carp and koi, goldfish inspired the visual depictions of the mythical phoenix and dragon, prominent symbols of the Orient. Many goldfish varieties that we see today are the result of enormous dedication and skill, honed by the centuries. The excerpt from Kanoko Okamoto's "A Riot of Goldfish", at the beginning of this article, describes the laborious and not always satisfying outcomes when raising goldfish.
Of all goldfish, top view ranchu arguably are the most standardized variety. Besides the strict physical requirements and color patterns, one must also consider how the ranchu swims. Equally important is the fish's personality. There are just too many variables that have to come together to form a perfect ranchu. Very rare indeed. Striving for perfection, so ingrained in Japanese culture, is fully reflected in high quality top view ranchu. My guess is that it is a certain character type who becomes fully fascinated with this endeavor. And for those of us it becomes an infectious passion. Top view ranchu keeping has spread from Japan to many Asian countries, most notably Thailand and Singapore. It is at its beginning stages in the USA, but even on my very short watch, I have seen the growth of interest in these fascinating fish. From receiving the many comments and questions from the readers of this blog I can attest to ranchu's popularity increasing far outside from their place of origin.