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Motif Information
Motif kingyo 01.jpg
Rōmaji Kingyo
English Goldfish
Kanji 金魚
Kana きんぎょ
Season Summer
Seasonal Exceptions None
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Fish

Kingyo (goldfish, Carassius auratus) are members of the carp family which includes koi. Kingyo were first domesticated in China and then introduced to Japan in 1603.[1]

Kingyo have been bred for various different colors, body shapes, fin and eye configurations. In Japan, emphasis is placed on the beauty of viewing the kingyo from the top down and perfecting a lineage, unlike in China where breeders favor new mutations and viewing the fish from the side as well as the top.

Originally a status symbol pet of the wealthy and sophisticated, kingyo under went a democratization and were available to everyone by the end of the Edo period. They remain popular pets today as they have excellent eyesight and learning skills, which allows them to distinguish between different humans and learn tricks with positive reinforcement.[2].

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Catching Goldfish (Kingyo sukui, 1928) from the series Twelve Scenes of Tokyo by Hiroshi Yoshida

Kingyo are associated with summer matsuri. Kingyo sukui (金魚掬い) is a game where one tries to pick up a live goldfish with a rice paper scoop and place it in a bowl. If you succeed, you win the goldfish. Kingyo sukui has been played since the late Edo Period at the turn of the 19th century. It came to be associated with matsuri stalls in the Taisho Period.[3]

Common Motif Pairings

Cat and Goldfish (1933) by Ohara Koson

  • Water motifs
  • Poi (ポイ, rice paper scoop)
  • Kingyodama (金魚玉, round goldfish display bowl)
  • Neko

Auspicious Nature

Kingyo sounds like "much gold (kin)." This preserves the earlier Chinese auspicious meaning of jīnyú (金鱼, goldfish) in which the word gold (金, jīn) is combined with the word for fish (鱼, yú) that is homophonous with the word for surplus or abundance (余, yú).

Identification & Style Variations

The most common fish depicted on yukata are kingyo. Kingyo are often stylized to emphasize their cute attributes and most commonly depicted as orange or red. Kingyo are most easily distinguished from koi, by their lack of barbels or "whiskers."

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Goldfish and Water Plants (c. 1850) by Ichimei

Yamaguchi prefecture is known for its mingei handicraft of kingyo-chochin, goldfish lanterns, which were first made around the beginning of the Meiji period. Kingyo are also popular decorations for furin and other bells.

In Poetry

引越しのた hikkoshi no ta- Every time we move
びに大きく -bi ni ookiku the goldfish
なる金魚 naru kingyo grows bigger

- Hoshino Tsunehiko (星野恒彦)[4]

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions

  • Link to any relevant threads on IG


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carp#As_ornamental_fish
  2. Wikipedia Article on Goldfish. Accessed on January 10, 2017.
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goldfish_scooping#History
  4. World Kigo Database Article on Koi and Kingyo. Accessed January 10, 2017.

Image Credits

  • Ainokimono

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: tzippurah (IG Username)