Yamatokoriyama: Water Brimming with Goldfish
Elegant and charming, goldfish have captured the hearts of people in Japan for centuries. One of the main areas where they are produced is the historic city of Yamatokoriyama in Nara Prefecture. Although this region of Japan does not receive a lot of rainfall, there is abundant groundwater. There are many rivers running through the city, and reservoirs have been built to make use of their water. Over the centuries, the terrain was modified until it was perfect for goldfish breeding, and it took off in a big way. This time on Journeys in Japan, US photographer Seri Nieves visits Yamatokoriyama to explore the deep connection with water and goldfish in this ancient castle town.

Goldfish farm

Goldfish breeding began in Yamatokoriyama some 300 years ago. Tradition has it that it was introduced as a pastime by some samurai who settled in the area. Since then it has grown to play a major role in the city's economy. Many of the fish produced here used to be for "goldfish scooping," a popular pastime at festival stalls, especially among children. But breeders have shifted to producing high-quality fish. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, people are spending more time at home these days, and many have begun keeping goldfish as a way to find peace of mind.

Moated settlements

In the past, small communities in the Yamatokoriyama area used natural rivers as protective moats. The Banjo moated settlement is one of the best known. Traces of its moat can still be seen today and many of its old buildings have been preserved. The largest houses have magnificent gates, reflecting their status and wealth, and were built in the traditional Yamatomune style of architecture, featuring roofs covered with both tiles and thatching.

Traditional indigo dyeing

When Koriyama Castle was rebuilt in the late 16th century, a district specializing in indigo dyeing was set up in the castle town. Indigo dye is made by fermenting natural indigo plants, and thanks to the abundance of cotton and water in this area, the dyeing craftsmanship prospered. After synthetic dyes were introduced from abroad, the traditional skills died out but 30 years ago, the laborious indigo dyeing techniques were revived by master craftsman Nishii Yasumoto.


To reach Yamatokoriyama from Tokyo, the Tokaido Shinkansen takes about 2 and a half hours to Kyoto; from there it's another hour by express train.