Symbolically, the koi is of great importance and represents strength, perseverence, endurance and courage. From China comes the legend of the “Dragon Gate”, a sacred place at the top of the longest, steepest waterfall on the rivers with the strongest current. The fish strive to pass this gate by leaping upriver against the current. Once they arrive at the base of the waterfall, exausted from battling the strong current, they must leap up the waterfall to pass through the gate. It is believed that those who succeed are caught up in heaven in a white cloud and are rewarded by being transformed into dragons living forever in the regions of happiness above the clouds.
In Japan, every element of the natural world has a sacred side for Shinto, and the religion promotes harmony between the divine, humans, and nature. A lofty tree, a towering waterfall, or a wondrous mountain were believed to possess kami and were made objects of worship, and the sea was recognized as the source of life. The koi has become an emblem for boys. Young samurai, who trained hard to surmount all difficulties to attain success, were looked upon as “the fish that attained dragonhood” upon passing the difficult tests. Because of this, the koi was adopted as a symbol of courage, strength and endurance by samurai. Paper or cloth koi are hung from the rooftop to announce the birth of a son, and on May 5, which is Boy’s Day, koi kites are hung to commemorate this day.
Koi are the most celebrated fish in Asia, abundant in the rivers and lakes. There are known to be 52 species of koi, with the goldfish being the most popular. The usual color is a ruddy, golden hue, but sometimes they show a silvery or blackish tint at a certain age. Koi scale the rapids and waterfalls to spawn in the quieter water above. By strength and perseverance, they succeed in attaining this goal.