Goldfish in Hawaii: A Visit to Oahu

Those who know me know that I often go to extraordinary lengths to align goldfish activities with business travel. This has worked out very well for me; I have made new friends and the travel has seemed like less of a burden. In 1998 I hit the mother lode of travel-related goldfish opportunities. This article will talk about one of these trips, to the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

This was my first time to Hawaii and I really enjoyed it. People tell me that Maui is perhaps more naturally spectacular than Oahu, but I believe Oahu is the right choice to visit fellow goldfish hobbyists: I was able to meet five in the Honolulu area in a day, thanks to the tremendous kindness of my "e-friend" Alton.

Those of you who are GFSA members should remember Alton’s excellent article in the Goldfish Report publication on how the Japanese raise Ranchu. Alton has expended considerable effort to develop Japanese Ranchu club contacts, to gain both knowledge and high quality fish. He has been very successful at both, in my opinion. I had corresponded with Alton for a while by email and was very excited to finally meet him. He proved to be a very gracious host, shuttling me around for a day to meet different hobbyists.

When I arrived at Alton’s house on Sunday morning, I met Alton and his friend Doug, a new Ranchu enthusiast also interested in "the tour". We actually spent quite a while at his house, as there was lots to see. Alton keeps Koi as well as goldfish, and in 1998 was president of the Hawaiian Goldfish and Carp Association (1999 was the association's 40th anniversary, making it one of the oldest continuously active US Koi clubs). For the goldfish, Alton had the Ranchu strain he has had for many years, plus many new additions brought in from Japan during 1998.

He had adult Ranchu that he had obtained from a goldfish dealership in Tokyo called Yoshida, and also several-month-old young from a spawn these fish had produced upon arrival in Hawaii. This was of interest to me: for those of you who have read about my first visit to Japan in 1995, you know that I had gotten information about Yoshida from a friend, but had been unable to visit the shop. Well, I passed the info to Alton and he was able to take advantage of it.

He also had Tosakins, Jikins, and Wakins he had brought in from Japan. This was the first time I had seen any of these varieties in the flesh. The Wakins had bred and he had numerous young fish. It really struck me that the Wakin seemed like kind of neat goldfish: hardy, attractive, and large and colorful enough to be an interesting pool fish.

Above: mixed Wakins of various ages in Alton's pond

Of all Alton's fish, the most exciting specimens were the new club-grade Ranchu he had just recently brought in from Tokyo. I didn’t count but he had at least a dozen yearling fish from one of the most prestigious Tokyo clubs. These fish will form the breeding base for development of a very high quality stock of Ranchu; we need to watch Alton’s progress over the next few years!

Above: a sampling of some young club-grade Ranchu

Hawaii is a tropical state. Goldfish, as a temperate climate fish, are problematic to breed in the tropics. Alton has surmounted this obstacle using his now famous refrigerator method, where a pair of fish are gradually cooled and then warmed back up in a fridge in containers, to condition them for breeding. I got to see the famous device, sitting in his garage.

After exploring all the nooks and crannies at Alton’s house, we went over to Byran’s house. Byran I would describe as a semi-professional hobbyist; he breeds a lot of Orandas, Ryukins, and some other varieties, which he sells each year at a big orchid show in Honolulu. To support this effort, he had the ubiquitous Rubbermaid cattle troughs, many tanks, and homemade wood and fiberglass vats. All located outside around his house. Short of the professional operations I’ve seen in China, I have never seen more goldfish in one place. He feeds a mostly vegetable pelleted food that he has specially made. He puts the pellets in water (with some additives, like liquid vitamins and color enhancers) in the refrigerator to soak for several hours and then feeds them liberally to his fish. Seems like a good diet; the fish were very healthy and colorful.

Above: some of Byran's young Ryukins being grown out in a tank

Above: one of Byran's breeder Orandas

Above: some of Byran's Rubbermaid cattle trough ponds

Poor Byran’s big problem is theft losses. With all his tanks and ponds outside, he said that he often had fish disappear due to "two legged animals". This would make me quite crazy, but he seemed pretty philosophical about it.

After visiting, Byran, we headed over to Kathleen’s house (another long-time "e-friend"). Kathleen has four or five of the 350 gallon Rubbermaid watering troughs plus an assortment of smaller containers, all containing Ranchu she has either brought back from Japan or spawned herself. Oh, and a tank in the garage with some long-finned goldfish like Moors and Orandas. We had a great time poking around in the troughs, pulling out fish into smaller pans to look at and photograph. Kathleen isn’t big on culling … with line-bred Japanese Ranchu you can get away with this for a generation or two, but Alton will give her a hand on this, I think.

Kathleen had a lot of interesting information she had gathered. She had written to the Kyowa Company about their food and had experimented with feeding different prepared foods to her fish. Her conclusion was that it just didn’t seem to matter, as the fish did as well on flakes from K-Mart as they did on the most expensive Bio-kyowa pellets. I think the fact that the fish are outside in the sun, with plenty of aquatic plants and insects to eat, probably renders her prepared foods irrelevant. Her fish were in great condition, as were all the goldfish I saw in Hawaii.

From Kathleen's place, Kathleen, Doug, and I all packed into Alton's car and we went to visit Goichi Kobayashi. Mr. Kobayashi is a long-time, senior member of the GFSA. He has been Alton's mentor, starting him with Ranchu and teaching him the ropes. It turns out, for example, that Mr. Kobayashi originated the use of the refrigerator for conditioning Ranchu to breed.

When we arrived at Mr. Kobayashi's, his wife welcomed us and we all went up and sat on their porch to talk. Keeping the fish has become a bit too much work for Mr. Kobayashi as he has gotten older, so sadly the Ranchu and Azumanishiki I had heard so much about were gone. But he has a lifetime of stories and memorabilia, which we eagerly went through. He brought out his many Ranchu club yearbooks from Japan; these are booklets of photos and show records that every Ranchu club puts out. We looked through these with interest. I think it has been many years since Mr. Kobayashi has been back to Japan for a Ranchu show. And yet, when I was in Tokyo a few months later at some Ranchu shows, the current generation of club masters ("sensei") remembered Mr. Kobayashi as a contemporary of their fathers and asked after him.

We asked Mr. Kobayashi about some of the stories and events from the early days of the GFSA. For example, where did the "Kobayashi Award", which the Greater Akron Aquarium Society bestows every year, come from? He said that he had been asked to judge the goldfish at that show and asked the show chairman if he could do anything else to help. The chairman suggested that sponsoring a goldfish trophy would be appreciated. And so he did. I have to remember the method: sponsor an impressive award in a far-away place, and then step back and let my reputation grow to legendary-status. At least for Mr. Kobayashi, this is what has happened. Now, more than 25-years later in 1999, the Kobayashi Award is still presented every year at the GAAS show, which has one of the largest displays of goldfish in the US.

I actually have met several people, after I met Mr. Kobayashi, who have filled in additional puzzle pieces for me. Talking with a GFSA founder who now lives in Japan, I found out that the GFSA started as the American Goldfish Club, out of New York, and then moved to a California base and became the GFSA about 27 years ago. Another hobbyist from those early GFSA days had contacted me through my Web page shortly after this. He had been involved in raising Ranchu when Mr. Kobayashi came to judge the show in Akron. This hobbyist told me about the show and how Mr. Kobayashi had been a bit uncomfortable judging, since almost all the fish had come from him or his bloodline. But there was an exception; a new hobbyist from New York who had some really nice Ranchu he had bred from parents he got at a pet shop. That hobbyist is still producing excellent Ranchu from this strain today; in fact I have four fish from him. I asked that Ranchu breeder about Mr. Kobayashi (all these people refer to him simply as "Kobi"). He recalled how Mr. Kobayashi used to ship his fish to winter with a hobbyist in North Carolina, who would then ship them back in the spring so that they could be spawned in Hawaii; Mr. Kobayashi had also told us this story. I consider this pretty remarkable in the pre-express delivery days of the early 1970's.

After a nice afternoon, we bid the Kobayashis farewell. Mrs. Kobayashi insisted we each take a fresh mango from the tree in their front yard. As we got into Alton's car, I made the mistake of commenting how much I liked mangoes and how hard it was to get good ones. All my new friends then insisted that I also take theirs, over my feeble and somewhat ingenuous protests. For the next several days in Hawaii I had chocolate-covered Macademia nuts and fresh tree-ripened mango for breakfast every morning. Ah the life in paradise!

We dropped everyone off and then went back to Alton's house. There I took photos, looked at fish, and talked goldfish until it began to get dark, and I felt there was no way I could decently stay any longer. So I thanked Alton profusely for giving me one of my best goldfish "vacations" ever and headed back to my hotel.