Hanako, the fish who lived to 226

My friend Justin Ried just sent me the fascinating story of Hanako, a koi fish who apparently lived to be 226 years old. During the last decades of Hanako's life, her caretaker was Dr. Komei Koshihara, president of Nagoya Women's College. Koi Adventures has a translated transcript of a 1966 talk given by Koshihara about Hanako, who in 1977 went to the great koi pond in the sky. From Koi Adventures:
This "Hanako" is still in perfect condition and swimming about majestically in a quiet ravine decending Mt. Ontake in a short distance. She weighs 7.5 kilograms and is 70 centimeters in length. She and I are dearest friends. When I call her saying "Hanako! Hanako!" from the brink of the pond, she unhesitatingly comes swimming to my feet. If I lightly pat her on the head, she looks quite delighted. Sometimes I go so far as to take her out of the water and embrace her. At one time a person watching asked me whether I was performing a trick with the carp. Although a fish, she seems to feel that she is dearly loved, and it appears that there is some communication of feeling between us. At present my greatest pleasure is to go to my native place two or three times a month and keep company with "Hanako".
Story of Hanako (Koi Adventures)


  1. later that day when asked; :”How can you eat that steak of Hanako?”, He replied: ” Well, a fish like that, a fish like that you don’t eat all at once!”

    A touching image in the story, I myself know fish indeed do have individual personalities.

  2. We feed the koi at the Japanese Garden at the Denver Botanic Gardens. My little guy is 2 1/2 and LOVES them. They show up in droves and are absolutely beautiful… letting you touch them and will nibble on your finger (if you are brave).

  3. #3- Why, pray tell, is this nuts?

    Is it so hard to believe that living things can form a bond?

    There was a story in the news over here in London not long ago about a rabbit scratching on his owner’s bedroom door to alert the owner to a fire that had broken out.

    There are many stories of dogs saving humans from drowning or freezing to death. Or what about the female elephant who saved the kid from being mauled to death when he fell in the pen at the zoo?

    Even animals considered to be relatively unintelligent can still form a relationship with another creature. Generally, any animal capable of herd life can display social or even protective tendencies.

    Most mammals could exhibit this, but mammals aren’t the only animals on earth known to take care of their own. Some fish and even alligators exhibit protective instincts (crazy stories about Florida men with pet alligators aren’t really that crazy after all).

    That does beg the question though– can you train a fish to fetch or sic?

  4. I can’t help but wonder that maybe, just maybe, Dr. Koshihara’s HUGGING the fish had something to do with its death. Seems like that’d not only stress the hell out of the fish but wipe off a lot of the slime on its scales, which it relies upon to fight infections.

  5. The first time I saw koi was at the Stockmann department store in Helsinki. They used to keep a few beautiful yellow fish in a small pond just half a meter off the ground. They would circle the pond and recognize people, pausing and surfacing when they came near.

    They were definitely social, and I thought it was neat that so many people could interact with them freely. It made me a little nervous that someone might try and feed one a french fry from the nearby Carrol’s restaurant, though!

    I wonder if they still keep them…

  6. I don’t know about other fish, but I know Carp are smart buggers. The local zoo keeps a pond with a bunch of big-enough-to-swallow-a-duck-whole sized carp. There’s this wooden landing with food pellet dispensers over the pond where visitors can toss them to the fish, ducks and whatnot. When the fish see people looking over the rail, they start swarming near the people. They’d bump the ducks out of the way in order to get to the food before them, too.

  7. #13 i see that same activity in make lakes that are frequented by by people snacking on bread or popcorn, etc…. I’ve been sitting by the water and see a small school of fish swim up and look right at me and wait for food. weird, and cool

  8. The article header is incorrect on the age in the referenced article (looks like their math was off).

    The text says the fish was 215 (in 1966) in the 2nd paragraph. So more like 256/257.

  9. To those who say the fish recognize people with food and have “personalities”, I would challenge you to look at potential scientific causes for such behavior.

    For example, they may not recognize individual people or be “social” as one poster put it, but rather they may be attracted to motion near the surface, which could indicate a bug or small lizard or something edible that may land in the water. They would have a better chance of catching it by getting close to it so they approach.

    Personalities are not such in the manner that we are accustomed to, but rather chemical/nervous reactions that cause the fish to respond in a certain way to specific stimulus.

    There are plenty of scientific tests that can be done to determine whether what you are suggesting is realistic.

    Sorry to rain on the “awwww creatures love us” moment but it saddens me that people resort to this sort of magical thinking over behavior that, while most definitely interesting and good story-telling material, is most likely the result of the fish’s simplistic natural wiring, and nothing more complex.

    I for one would be curious to hear peoples thoughts on other possible scientific reasons for the behavior this fish exhibited.

    1. Sorry to rain on the “awwww creatures love us” moment but it saddens me that people resort to this sort of magical thinking over behavior that, while most definitely interesting and good story-telling material, is most likely the result of the fish’s simplistic natural wiring, and nothing more complex.

      Funny. That’s how I feel about people who view human behavior as magically unrelated to the behavior of other animals.

  10. I dunno.

    I can’t remember the number of times I questioned my parents about how “Goldie” changed – shape, size, colour – through all the long years of her life. “She’s growing.” “She’s molting.” “She’s just resting and getting some sun on her belly – you go to school, I’ll wake her up.”

    Years later I learned the truth. A quick trip to the pet store, flip open the paper towel and: “Match this.”


    Yeah, right. And how old are their hamsters? Don’t get me started on the frickin’ hamsters!

  11. RE:Antinous’ observation..

    Reminds me of the ‘Oh that gorilla can’t talk she’s just responding to verbal intonations that she recognizes and reacts appropriately” argument.

    If only my boss were that bright!!

    Separating ourselves from the life experiences of other sentient beings does both sides an injustice.

  12. ‘ Hanako, Dear, thou eatest feed from my hand
    Then fondlingly suckest thou my empty fingers.’

    Human-Carp relationships: the love that could never be.

    Also, @ Haltingpoint

    Personalities are […] chemical/nervous reactions that cause the fish to respond in a certain way to specific stimulus.

    Same kinda goes for people, doesn’t it?

  13. when you dive (scuba or free) the same reef daily for a year and get to know the larger resident fish, yes you will see that some fish at least do have idiosyncratic personalities. It is there for those with eyes to see. And hearts. I have met people who firmly believe dogs don’t have feelings. I have even read of research scientists that tortured primates. Fish have lives, some tiny, some not so far from our experience. The anchovies I dip-netted all fought hard to keep their lives – while still anonymous bits of tasty silver to me. The pelagics that left the safety of their school to investigate a much too large to eat object out of sheer curiosity all had visible change of expression in their fishy eyes when the silent,sinking strange object suddenly impaled them. Those too large to be hunted (and knew it) suffered my presence as a neighbor and even on occasion visited.

    Yeah, fish feel.

  14. @19: The article says “a translated transcript of a 1966 talk given by Koshihara about Hanako, who in 1977 went to the great koi pond in the sky.”, so it was 215 in ’66, thus when it died in ’77 it was 226. The story was just brought to light this year, but the fish passed away over 3 decades ago.

  15. “Hanako (c. 1751 – July 7, 1977) was a scarlet koi fish owned by several individuals, the last of which being Dr. Komei Koshihara. She was reportedly 226 upon her death.[1][2][3][4] Her age was determined by removing one of her scales and examining it extensively in 1966. Once the scale was fully analyzed, it was said that she was 215. She is (to date) the longest-lived koi fish ever recorded as well as the longest-lived vertebrate ever recorded”

    a la wiki anyway.

    and dogfish live to one hundred. But who truly knows how long the deep dwellers and greatest great whites live? When I think of the dogfish tossed aside as by-catch…

    If chimps lived two hundred years, would we have ever experimented on them?

  16. Can examining the scales provide an accurate value for the age of the fish? Some turtles have similar ‘age rings’ on their scutes, but this only shows how often the turtle has ‘molted’; it is often assumed this only happens once a year, but may happen as often as three times a year. That the rest of the carp examined (in the linked story) were also estimated to be extremely old, might suggest problems with the methodology.

    Steven J. Gould, in one of his essays (I’d provide chapter and verse, but my copy is in a box in the attic), tackled stories of turtles living to an extreme age. He told the story of a turtle in a zoo; a gift by a king to a city, and much loved. After a long life, the turtle died, and the people of the city replaced the turtle with another of the same type, and gave it the same name. After a generation, people forgot the original turtle had died, and talked about this remarkable turtle in the zoo that had been given to the city by a king years ago, and was still alive. And when replacement turtle died, they claimed that it had lived for 200+ years.

    Not that anyone who said so was counting rings, but I’ve always liked that story…

  17. Sheepishly clarifying my previous comment: most turtles don’t ‘molt’, and those that do (such as the painted turtle) don’t have scutes with rings.

  18. @Haltingpoint #20

    First off, I understand what you mean about people seeing things in animals that just are not there. That being said you are wrong about Koi fish. I have a friend that breads Koi. They do have deferent personalities and can recognize faces from three feet away. That has been proven scientifically.

  19. #20 – you remind me of those eminent physicians and doctors who believe that children do not feel pain.
    When my youngest was 6, we saw a newscast that spoke to the medical profession re-examining that belief. She put her hands on her hips and asked, “What’s the matter with these people? Can’t they remember being children?”
    You have a “magical” belief that animals do not “feel” emotion” and you accuse those who have observed it of having the same.
    I have also heard that children under two do not speak in sentences, and yet I have observed it, as young as 11 months.
    Sometimes, the simplest “Science” is exactly what you have observed.
    Have you ever noticed that the “obvious” is not science until a “Scientist” writes it down, and then, suddenly, what everyone always “knew” is now “science?”

  20. Maybe I am also a nut,
    to think mosquitoes can relate to man.
    You see five mosquitoes flying in your bathroom, say. The moment you pick up your zapper. You cannot find them anymore. They would have perched on the wall to avoid detection.

  21. This story is a bunch of hooey; #20 has it spot on. And #33 where did you come up with “scientists don’t think children feel pain”?

    If that was true, why do anesthesiologists anesthetize children before surgery?

    Sometimes I wonder about the future of the human race when I see people who think fish have emotions & humans can’t feel pain. All backwards I say….backwards.

    1. If that was true, why do anesthesiologists anesthetize children before surgery?

      Children were routinely subjected to procedures without anesthesia until a few decades ago.

  22. I have a large tank of goldfish , 125 gal. at times one will get sick and I’ll put it in a small 10 gal tank to treat it. If it get well , and I place it back in the main tank , the fish will swim up and all around the once sick fish as though to greet it! Now if the sick fish dies and I get a new fish from the pet store , the fish that are currently in the tank will huddle at the opposite side. This was amazing to me , you see for over 20 years I was a avid fisherman. I too held the belief that fish were just a bundle of nerves. A belief I no longer have.

  23. @#37

    ?? what kind of operations?
    I believed that one of the first operations using chloroform was on a five year old child…

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