Hanako, a beautiful scarlet colored female Japanese koi fish, lived to be 226 years old.
Two-hundred-and-twenty-six years old.
That´s 2 centuries + 2 decades + an additional 6 years just for rubbing your fins.
This is a picture of Hanako in Japan just a few years before she died.
Imagine her casually swimming around, then slowly moving up on an unsuspected koi trying out really cheesy pick up lines. This was her favorite: “You’re KOI-LICIOUS”. It worked. Every. Damn. Time.
The Birth of Hanako Koi
In the monsoon season of the first year of Horeki (a Japanese era c. 1751 AD), soon after Japan took over experimental harvesting of koi fish from China, among hundreds and thousands of spawns was born this scarlet-colored fish, who came to be loving called “Hanako” by her first caretakers. She was owned by the Koshihara clan of the Tokugawa era who chose the name, which means “flower girl” or “flower maid” in English, based on their affection towards her.
The Life of Hanako Koi
While her initial place of spawning is not accurately documented, in 1966, her last and final owner, Dr. Komei Koshihara revealed that she spent most of her life in a quiet pond at the foot of Mt. Ontake in a locality near Oppara, Higashi-Shirakawa Village, Kamo County. According the Koshihara, the ravine was carefully constructed by his ancestors only keeping Hanako’s well-being in mind, a factor he believes led to her thinking that she was fondly loved by and was part of the family. Pure water perennially trickled down into the pond, allowing ultimate favorable conditions for Hanako.
What were Hanako’s Physical Characteristics?
A decade before her death, in the late 1960s, Koshihara, himself a fish enthusiast and professionally the President of Nagoya Women’s College, addressed Japanese national radio NHK and talked about his beloved pet at length. At that time, she weighed about 15 pounds (7.5 kilograms) with a length of 27 inches (70 centimeters). With an orangish hue, she was a sight for sore eyes, and would often come swimming to the edge of the pond when her master called, “Hanako! Hanako!”. Although fish do not have external ears, they have inner linings which help them perceive sound vibrations, and she considered Koshihara’s voice as her ultimate love song. A light pat on her head would further make her bob in extreme glee, one other factor which Koshihara believes added to her longevity.
How Did They Determine Hanako’s Age?
While whales and tortoises are known as the longest-living organisms in the world, when it comes to pet fish, koi takes the crown. We are sure that Goldie the oldest goldfish was hated by most of his brothers and sisters (for the negligible years that they lived anyway), but loved by the elders of the family for clocking 45 years, he couldn’t defeat our dearest Hanako, who was semi-scientifically proven to be the oldest koi in the world.
Similar to how the age of a tree is calculated by counting the rings in its bark (or stem), the age of a fish is calculated by counting the number of rings (called annuli) in the scale. Since these are not visible to the human naked eye, only a specialist can do it with the help of a light microscope. Thankfully, unlike while the tree has to be preferably cut down to determine its age, in a koi fish, you only need samples of its scales. So, relax, you can keep the phone down. No need to call PeTA.
Koshihara got in touch with his friend and colleague Prof. Masayoshi Hiro to examine the scales that were extracted from Hanako’s body. In 1966, he reminisced how heavy-hearted he felt while taking off two scales off her glistening form. It took Hiro about two months to precisely determine her age. That year, together with Koshihara, he concluded that Hanako koi was 215 years old. 11 years later, she would bid adieu to the world at 226, make Koshihara teary-eyed and desolate, and become a reason for the world to bemoan.
Hanako’s death in 1977 almost paralyzed the koi community, and consequently led to wide-ranging scientific experiments which hoped to mimic the gene cells and nucleus structure of the koi in the human chromosome. The results have been imperfect.
How Could She Live for 226 Years?
An event that has baffled the whole world for years, the two biggest factors that people believe caused her to thrive for more than two centuries are the love and care of her owners and clear waters of the Japanese mountains. Interestingly, the other breeds of koi fish that were friends with Hanako also lived for longer periods, such as Aoi, who lived for 170 years, and the white-colored Yuki, who died after swimming in the same pond for 141 years.
Hanako’s Age In Historic Perspective
Hanako, meaning “flower girl” in Japanese, was born in 1751, five years BEFORE classical genius Mozart was born. She died in 1977 on the 7th of July (7/7/77).
It can be challenging to fathom the insane longevity of Hanako when we compare it to famous historical events. Unaware and safely swimming in her Japanese koi pond, Hanako lived through:
- James Cook discovering Australia (1770)
- the French Revolution (1789-1799). The one with guillotines chopping heads off.
- the world population passing 1 billion (1801). Now its 7.5 billion.
- Napoleon defeated at the Battle of Waterloo (1815)
- Abolishment of slavery (1865)
- Thomas Edison invents the light bulb (1879)
- First and Second World War (1918) (1945)
- Neil Armstrong, first man to set foot on the Moon (1969)
- Rocking with Elvis and The Beatles (60-70´s)
OK, OK, OK, you get the point. Hanako was a fascinating old chagoi koi. Not the biggest but certainly the oldest koi carp ever recorded in history.
If Hanako was a Person?
Hanako’s temperament was described by Koshimara as something similar to that of a happy-go-lucky person. Think of such a jolly person whom you know and then ask them to wear a koi costume. We won’t be answerable if that causes hilarity.
According to her master, Hanako was constantly receptive of his embraces and words. She had gotten used to such embraces and playful activities ever since she began to be looked after by the first generation Koshimaras. She would bob her body and listen attentively whenever they came near the pond. It was like she had become the canine version of a fish, something that you won’t be able to pull in your home’s fish tank. At best, that tiny black herring would stare at you for a few seconds and then go to fight with the four-year old goldfish you named Goldie hoping that he will live longer and create history. (Good luck to you!)
The Death of Hanako Koi
While she lived through a lot of historical events, one of the biggest example given out while talking about Hanako is that she not only lived through both the World Wars (considering Japan’s role and subsequent defeat in the latter one), but was also alive when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon. Seven years later, in 1977 (July 17), she breathed her last in Koshihara’s backyard pond.
How long do koi fish normally live?
Sorry, the average koi life span doesn’t come anywhere near Hanako, but there are things you can do to increase their age.
Koi life span can vary greatly depending on the genetics, sub-species and quality of care. Under normal pond conditions common among hobbyist the koi life span averages 20-30 years.
Through superior pond conditions with plenty of well-filtrated water, minimizing predatorial stress with adequate security systems and a premium dietary plan, it is not uncommon for the average koi age to reach 30-40 years.
You’ll find the ultimate koi life span conditions in the mountainous mud-ponds of Japan, fed by natural lakes and streams. In this environment, where the origins of koi breeding have its roots, koi are known to live to the age of 60-70 years.
How ginormous is the biggest koi fish in the world?
One would expect Hanako to be a cracking contender here, but with her abysmal 8 kg (18 lbs) weigh-in, she doesn’t come anywhere close to the largest koi carp on record.
The prize as the world’s biggest koi carp goes to Big Girl, a 42 kg (91 lbs) monster of a koi, owned by Geoff Lawton in Wiltshire, England. This gigantic specimen is 1,25 meters long (4,1 ft) and eats half a kilo of pedigree food daily to sustain her weight.