Lowly loach back in fashion

Published on
August 30, 2011

Yoshihiko Noda, Japan’s new prime minister, has spurred a rediscovery of the lowly bottom-feeding loach, a freshwater fish in the Cobitidae family.

In his official response to his selection, the new head of the democratic party of Japan and prime minister mentioned the poem “Loach,” by Mitsuo Aida. In a reference to Japan’s difficult situation, he said that like the loach, “I want to pull the nation forward with the belief that we can persevere, even through the mud.”

In the poem “Loach,” a passage says, “The loach does not try to imitate the goldfish.” The poem was published five years before Aida’s death in 1991. The theme is “Don’t compare yourself with others.” 

On Tuesday, the publisher, Diamond Co., hurriedly decided to reprint 5,000 copies of a book containing the poem. There has also been a 50 percent jump in visitors to the Mitsuo Aida Museum in Tokyo. The poem “Loach” was not on display, but after many visitors asked about it an exhibition is being considered. The curator, Aida’s eldest son, said that while he was surprised, he is rejoicing that his fathers work will become widely known.

In Japan, where it is called “dojou,” the loach is usually served as a hot pot, simmered with vegetables into a rich and healthy stew. It has fallen out of favor in recent years. But the interest in the poem is expected to increase consumption of the fish at restaurants, as Japanese are unusually inclined to follow fads, especially in foods.

The species Misgurnus anguillicaudatus is also known as the “weather loach,” because it detects changes in barometric pressure and reacts with frantic swimming or standing on end as it attempts to burrow into the mud. The fish can grow up to 12-inches (30.5 centimeters) long. The fish are bottom-dwelling scavengers, feeding mainly on organic material such as algae.

In aquariums, they get along well with goldfish, which probably prompted Aida to note the differences between the goldfish, which swims in the clear water, and the loach, which digs in the mud. Each has its own niche and it is not necessary for them to compete with, or imitate, the other.

Loaches can be trapped with weirs in ponds or rivers, but are farmed extensively in China. Loach-sea Co. Ltd. of Liangyungang City, Jiangsu province, China, offers loach for export to Japan and Korea at USD 368.42 per metric ton on the Alibaba trading site.

Contributing Editor reporting from Osaka, Japan

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