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Young goldfish breeders rise to challenge in Aichi

Chunichi Shimbun

Breeding goldfish has been a dying industry in and around the city of Yatomi, Aichi Prefecture, but a glimmer of hope remains as a younger generation of breeders are taking over their family businesses.

“I could not bear to let the tradition of goldfish breeding in Yatomi die out,” one young farmer said.

Yatomi is one of the three biggest goldfish producers in Japan, along with Yamatokoriyama, Nara Prefecture, and Edogawa Ward, Tokyo.

“The situation can’t be helped, but it is very sad,” said Keizo Ito, head of the Yatomi Goldfish Fisheries Cooperative Association, referring to the decline in goldfish farmers. Ito has been working in the goldfish industry since he graduated from university 38 years ago.

Goldfish were first brought into Yatomi near the end of the Edo Period when a goldfish merchant from Yamatokoriyama stopped by the city on his way to Nagoya. It was said he decided to create a pond to let his goldfish rest and roam free. Blessed with the abundant water provided by the nearby Kiso River, the goldfish-breeding industry bloomed there in the Meiji Era.

The Fisheries Cooperative Association was launched in 1960 and comprised farmers, wholesalers and shop owners from around the area, including the Tobishima district and the cities of Tsushima and Aisai.

There were more than 320 members in the 1970s, but the market shrank year after year until there were only 119 remaining in fiscal 2011.

The lack of successors is the main problem. Farmers must constantly monitor the health of their fish and control the temperature of the water, so they can’t take much time off. Many in the younger generation shunned the fish-rearing job for other careers in metropolitan Nagoya.

Demand has also fallen. Trading once reached ¥20 million per auction in the Yatomi-based goldfish wholesale market, but now the business only does about ¥5 million. Many families used to own a goldfish bowl and the city’s streets would be lined with goldfish stalls during festivals. But people stopped buying goldfish because of the prolonged recession and the arrival of new varieties of entertainment, including video games.

Yet there are still young people who have decided to dive into the business. The youngest member of the association, 25-year-old Takashi Hattori from Tobishima, used to work at a restaurant in a Nagoya hotel. He returned in March 2009 when his father’s health declined so he could continue the goldfish business started by his grandfather.

Hattori always loved fishing. He raises goldfish varieties often found at festivals and stores and wants to ensure the fish will always be around for the public.

“Some people don’t want to buy goldfish because they think that they will die right away. I want to breed long-living goldfish that people can enjoy for a long time,” he said.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published May 16.