Fish in Japan

An important part of the country’s life and livelihood

By Elena Lisina    - 3 min read

Fish in their various forms and aspects occupy a special place in the culture of Japan.

My first acquaintance with fish - and something of a surprise - was seeing big colorful carp in a small brook at Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa. Later I learnt that those carp or ‘koi’ in Japanese are regarded as sacred fish. Koi are an artificially bred variety of carp which unlike the usual gray carp have bright or gold colors. Koi swim against the current and are often seen as a symbol of perseverance and strength. The symbol of koi can also refer to struggles, willpower, overcoming difficulties and achieving goals. It is also perceived in Japan as a male symbol. May 5 in Japan is a ‘boys holiday’ called Kodomo-no-hi and about a month before the holiday you can see cloth carp streamers known as koinobori hung all over the country. The streamers are hung with the intention of boys growing to be strong and successful.

‘Koinobori’ are traditional decorations for the holiday Kodomo-no-hi
‘Koinobori’ are traditional decorations for the holiday Kodomo-no-hi

My second deep impression of fish in Japan was visiting aquariums in Osaka, Miyajima and Sendai, which are filled with great collections of the ocean’s inhabitants. Not everyone can dive deep and watch fish and other sea life in their natural surroundings, and in the case of big sea animals it can be dangerous. I was fascinated (and still I am) to watch huge stingrays, piranha, lionfish and hundreds of other kinds of fish!

Lionfish are beautiful but also dangerous
Lionfish are beautiful but also dangerous

My next surprise was visiting an amazing exhibition called the ‘Art Aquarium-2019’ in Tokyo. All of the aquariums and installations with gold fish were just fantastic! I learnt that during the Edo period, watching gold fish or kingyo was an important part of the common people's culture. Along with soft music and colorful lighting, the ‘dance’ of thousands of kingyo was a really mesmerizing vision…

Both koi and kingyo are often pictured in Japanese traditional paintings. Japan is comprised of many islands and is surrounded by various seas and the Pacific Ocean. For centuries, fish were important as a food source and ultimately as a source of survival.

Ebisu is one of the most respected and beloved of the Shichi-fuku-jin, or seven lucky Gods. Being a protector of fishermen, he holds a large fish and is said to bring luck for a good catch.

In Japan there are thousands of restaurants serving sushi, sashimi and all kinds of fish dishes. There are also numerous fish markets all over the country, including the famous Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo!

Famous sushi with raw fish
Famous sushi with raw fish

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Elena Lisina

Elena Lisina @shiroi.tenshi

I love Japan very much! I like small towns of Japan where I can watch people doing their business and talk to them carefully. They're always friendly. I like Japanese gardens where I can just sit or walk and take my time. Also I like Shinto Jinja as being there I feel in peace. I like to watch sunsets and then to dine in some small local places. I like to soak into onsen after a long day of wandering. I like Japanese crafts very much as all items are made with great taste and skill. Nihon wo daisuki desuyo! My photos from Japan I also place here: Matane!