These Fish Won’t Fry, but They Do Bring Joy and Elegance to a Room

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Paper fireworks mobiles, inspired by the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival

NIIGATA — With their mouths wide open and gently curved paper bodies, Kami-nishikigoi, carp-shaped paper mobiles made by a Niigata-based company, look as if they are gracefully swimming when hung from a string.

Streamers shaped like carp considered a lucky fish in Japan are traditionally displayed on Children’s Day, May 5. But these paper mobiles can bring joy to any time of year.

These paper carp show off the same red, black and white patterns as real koi fish.

The paper mobiles are products of DI Palette Co., a printing company in Niigata City. Niigata Prefecture is considered the birthplace of colored carp.

DI Palette unveiled their products at the Cool Japan Expo in Niigata City in 2022, according to a deputy manager of the company’s planning and sales department. The expo exhibits traditional crafts and industrial products while promoting related businesses.

“We decided to reveal new products for the event. So, we started the necessary preparations six months beforehand,” the deputy manager said. The company had already produced mobile souvenirs designed to resemble the fireworks of the Nagaoka Fireworks Festival in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture. The festival is one of the country’s three major fireworks displays.

Real carp patterns

The company prepared more than 10 kinds of paper of varying thickness and texture and tested points including their color and ease of processing and durability. They also tried different patterns of color on the fish’s bodies.

“We looked at award-winning colored carp to find out what patterns received high praise at carp competitions. We made many prototypes based on them and came up with a pattern that would look good,” the deputy manager said.

They worked hard to find a way to effectively give the fish three-dimensional shape. Since simply interlocking the edges of the rolled paper was not enough to keep that shape, they made nine eyelets in the paper and passed a thread through them as if sewing through cloth. This allows the paper mobile to take its 3 dimensional shape when a thread is pulled. This thread is also used to hang the mobile.

The paper carp garnered a great deal of attention at the 2022 event and went on sale in May last year.

The mobiles are available in two sizes. The smaller one is 20 centimeters long and priced at ¥1,980, and the larger one is 24 centimeters long and costs ¥2,530. They are available on the company’s website and are popular as souvenirs for overseas business trips.

Innovative cutting

Making a paper carp is a multi-step process. First, a sheet of paper 515 millimeters long and 728 millimeters wide with printed patterns is cut into several pieces using a laser cutter. A single sheet of paper can be cut into 12 small or eight large carp mobiles.

The paper’s scale-like mesh patterns appear evenly spaced, but the cuts are arranged to make the belly rounded and the head thin when the paper is spread out.

The pectoral and tail fins, made of separate pieces of paper, sway when touched. They are sewn on by hand.

“Paper carp are filled with the possibilities of paper art expression. We want people to enjoy them as an everyday art,” the deputy manager said.

The company plans to propose new uses for paper carp, such as interior decoration at ryokan inns or stores.