If I ever open a restaurant — or better yet, a small intimate bar — I think I’ll name it The Blue Koi.
Part of my inspiration is this spirited hashioki, purchased from a talented ceramic artist named Sumiko Braithwaite on the Internet site Etsy.com. I can picture a larger version hanging outside entrance to my izakaya, or Japanese style pub, where I’ll serve drinks and snacks. I won’t post the name above the door, just hang an oversized version of this blue koi from a pair of chains.
I’m also inspired by the fusion of East and West that this blue koi represents. As described in the entry “Gotta love this fish,” koi are the ornamental carp that populate ponds and pools in gardens all over Japan. They are usually colored white, black, red, or gold, although some varieties have a light gray or natural blue tone on their scales.
A blue shade as vivid as the hashioki above wasn’t introduced in Japan until the early 19th century. Prior to that time blue pigments in Japan were made from indigo or dayflower flower, and they were quick to fade. But when Dutch traders were permitted to establish a colony at Nagasaki one of the things they introduced was a synthetic pigment known as “Prussian Blue” that resisted fading. In her carefully researched novel The Printmaker’s Daughter author Katherine Govier imagines a meeting between Philipp Franz von Siebold, a German physician attached to the Dutch colony, and the daughter of Japan’s famous woodblock Katsushika Hokusai. In Govier’s book von Siebold presents the daughter with supplies of Prussian Blue after ordering a series of paintings featuring Tokyo scenes. Hokusai’s daughter is overwhelmed by the gift, and anxious to experiment with “a blue that would make sea and sky resplendent.” in her artwork (1). Some scholars believe some of the daughter’s art has been erroneously attributed to Hokusai. In any case, Prussian Blue began to appeal in the prints of Hokusai, Hiroshige, and other woodblock artists after this time.
Now that I have the name for my pub I’ll have to give some thought to the snacks I will serve. How about smoked bluefish? Or grilled fish skewers with a blueberry sauce? Or edamame humus served with blue corn chips? It all sounds good.
(1) Grovier, Katherine. The Printmaker’s Daughter. New York: Harper Perennial, 2011, pp. 247-269.