Hawai‘i’s water quality plays a big role in the success of raising living jewels.
Most businesses go to great lengths to draw attention to themselves, employing sign wavers and flashy storefronts to lure customers in.
Kodama Koi Farm isn’t one of those businesses. Blink while driving through Lanikuhana Avenue, an impeccably suburban neighborhood in Mililani, and you’ll miss the narrow entrance that leads to the ten-acre farm. Visits are by appointment only, and one must pass a security guard and a mile long stretch of unpaved dirt road reminiscent of a scene from Jurassic Park, before finally reaching the farm.
“A lot of people don’t even know that the farm even exists,” says Taro Kodama, president of Kodama Koi Farm. “I kind of like it that way. We have to protect it from disease.”
On a windy Wednesday in March, manager Hide Kodama, Taro’s younger brother, takes me on a tour of the farm. Sprawling tents cover 120 ponds that are home to 35,000 koi of forty different varieties.
With a flick of his wrist, Hide disperses koi pellets into each of the seventeen 5,000-gallon ponds. In one pond, a cluster of Kohaku, the most popular variety of koi, darts to the center and tints the surface of the water a hue of fiery red. The koi’s shiny scales glow in the mid-morning sunlight. He strolls to one of the 40,000-gallon ponds, where bigger koi are raised. Some, depending on the size, coloration and texture, command as much as $35,000.
“There are two aspects of koi. One being as pets,” says Taro, 38. “The other aspect is they are art. They are called living jewels. They are beauty.”
A passion for the ornamental carp runs deep in the Kodama family. Mamoru Kodama, Hide and Taro’s father, who is 66, has been working in the koi business for over forty years, and has written two volumes of “Kokugyo” (translation: “National Fish”), regarded by koi enthusiasts as the encyclopedia of the koi world. In Japan, one of Mamoru’s grand champion koi sold for $250,000. Employee Jason Rumbawa, describes working with Mamoru as “like standing next to the Michael Jordon of koi. I feel honored.”
Mamoru’s influence has allowed the farm first pick from breeders in Niigata Prefecture, Japan’s leading producer of koi. All of the Kodama’s koi are bred in Niigata. Coupled with a steady diet of Kodama-patented koi food and an eBay-style business model that allows customers to bid for koi online, Kodama Koi Farm has established itself as a preeminent dealer of champion-quality koi, reaching customers as far as Europe and Asia.
“The only place we can’t ship to is South Africa,” says Hide, explaining that it takes fifty hours for the koi to arrive there, exceeding the thirty hours the koi are able to survive in the oxygen-infused bags. “We’ve had to turn people in Africa down.”
Hawai‘i’s water quality has also played a big role in the success of the business. In 2001, Taro moved to Los Angeles to run the online branch of the business and found that California’s water was tainting the quality of his koi. “The water was just too hard,” he says. “It was affecting the health of koi and the color of koi.” Since moving to Hawai‘i, Taro’s noticed a marked difference, and compares the water quality from the Waimanalo Mountains to that of Niigata.
“These conditions cause less stress for the koi and help them to become more beautiful,” Taro says. “This is part of the reason I moved to Hawaii too—it’s the best place to enjoy koi.”
For more information regarding Kodama Koi Farm and other Koi-related activities visit: www.kodamakoifarm.com www.alohakoi.org