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(September 2000)

I won them. Five little goldfish, kingyo in Japanese.

Our local end-of-summer festival blocked off the shopping street. Makeshift stalls in the street grilled corn on the cob, yakitori and takoyaki. Lines of children in yukata waited for their turn to get a cone of shaved ice. All along the street, games of skill awaited those who would try to toss a ring, shoot a cork-gun or catch a fish.

A little girl squatted at the side of a large, shallow tank of water filled with goldfish. She dipped a paper-covered frame into the water and scooped up a fish. It flopped off the frame and back into the water. She tried again.

This time her catch landed on the sidewalk. I squeaked, but she just reached over with little fingers and dropped the fish into her bowl of water. And she dipped again for another fish…this time she aimed carefully for one of the lovely orange and white ones. Fish number two was swimming in her bowl a few seconds later. Again and again she captured fish and deposited them into the bowl at her side.

I had stood there watching for so long and with such interest that I almost didn’t notice when an older man approached holding out a frame for me.

“Douzo,” he said, waving the frame at me as though I ought to take it from him.

“Ikura desu ka?” I asked, reaching for my wallet.

“Sebisu…” he answered. Service, for free.

I thanked him profusely and kneeled down to the fish basin. I studied the little girl’s technique. Pick a fish, slide the frame gently into the water and under the fish. Lift. Didn’t look so hard. After all, the little girl had more than a dozen before she finished.

I managed six. I decided that I’d rather have five, so I put the largest one back into the tank and handed the man my catch. Still unsure whether I should be paying for these fish, I asked again “Ikura?” but was waved away. Little did I know how much I’d be paying for these fish in the end.

I was smiling when I approached Tod with my catch in hand. “Look, Tod, I got fish!”

“We have no place to keep them,” he pointed out.

“Well, I know, but yesterday I saw some big ceramic bowls, like giant planters, on Hongo Dori. We could go get one of those because I want to make a water garden with these fish and some water lilies.”

Tod looked a little bit startled at this rather elaborate plan, but agreed to walk up Hongo Dori to the antique shop where I’d seen a dozen ornamental urns stacked up outside.

But when we arrived, the store was closed and the giant bowls were neatly covered with a tarp tied over them.

We settled on stopping for supplies, distilled water and fish food, at the BanBan Bazaar down the street. The shopkeeper grinned when she rang up our purchase and realised I was holding a baggie full of fish.

“Cute,” she crooned. “Are they from the festival?” she asked as the baggie mysteriously sprung a leak. Together we tucked the fish and their water into a second bag to stem the rush of water. Tod & I hurried home to install the fish into a bucket.

Tod named three of them. Pinky, Dinky, & Calico. I named the other two Fish-piki. Hiki is the counter for small animals…one fish is ippiki, two fish are nihiki, three fish are sambiki and so on. I decided that all of my fish taken as a group were fish-piki and the two without names were also fish-piki. It was easier that way.

We were aware of the brief mortality of festival fish and I worried about the fish-piki having sufficient oxygen, food and a happy environment. They made it through the night and lived all day Sunday. By Monday morning, they were still all alive, but their water was becoming cloudy. It was time to think about a more appropriate container and a filtering system.

So Tod did some research on the Internet and came up with RTW’s Goldfish Information Page ( RTW is a real aficionado; he has a basement full of goldfish. He gave some good advice about feeding, tank cleaning and even how much space a healthy goldfish needs.

“For two fish a twenty gallon tank will be big enough for several years. You can start with a ten gallon tank, but you may need a bigger tank within a year!” he writes.

A quick calculation showed that we would need a 50 gallon tank for the fish-piki. The big ceramic bowls I had seen don’t come quite that big. Time to rethink.

A few cruel options discarded, we had a decision. We’d go on safari to Sudo Park and release the fish-piki into the wild.

After dusk, I gathered up the pink bucket containing the well-fed fish and handed it to Tod, who carried it through the back streets from our house to the park.

We reached the park, a generous block of trees, pathways and the pond. Looking around to make certain we weren’t seen I climbed over the railing of the bridge down to the edge of the pond. Tod handed me the bucket and I tipped the fish in.

The water was a little chillier than their bucket and they slowed down for a few minutes, but when they adjusted to their new environment, they swum around energetically.

We said goodbye walked back home.

A few days later, we returned in the daylight to see if we could find them. The pond teems with fish of all sizes. Tiny fish the size of baby carrots swam in schools in the shade of rocks and trees. Large, venerably aged goldfish (dinner for six?) cruised the pond or rested near where the turtles sunned themselves.

We looked and looked. It seemed like the fish-piki might have had a chance with so many fish sharing the pond. We saw one goldfish that looked like Pinky or maybe Dinky. But we saw no sign of Calico or the two unnamed fish-piki. I was sad, but Tod was hopeful that they were there, swimming around unseen.

As we climbed the hill out of the park, we turned around to look back at the pond. A boy with a bucket was climbing over the railing where I had released the fish-piki. He had a bucket in his hands. He dipped it into the water, scooping up an unseen treasure. Maybe it was Calico.

I hope the fish-piki are enjoying their new home.

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