Nishiki-koi: a brand of sake inspired by an age old fraud


Nishiki-koi: a brand of sake inspired by an age old fraud

Back in the days when Japanese sake was delivered in barrels, rice was a precious commodity. And so was the sake that was made from this rice. In order to maximize profits, breweries would water down their sake before they delivered them to sake shops. And, in turn, sake shops would also water down their stock before selling it to consumers.


packaging design for Nishiki Koi Sake

The fraudulent practice became so commonplace that eventually a term was coined to refer to such sake: kingyo-shu (goldfish sake), meaning that the sake was so watered down that goldfish could swim in it. But the 250-year old sake brewery Imayo Tsukasa never participated in such practice. In fact, as legend has it, they maintained excellent relationships with the sake shops who appreciated their pure sake.

The sake brewery family decided to create a brand of sake inspired by this important part of sake-making history. But instead of goldfish, they took their name from the distant cousin of carp: koi. Designed by graphic designer Aya Kodama, the Nishiki koi sake bottles are decorated in the beautiful patterns that koi are known for. And when placed inside the white box, a cut-out that’s shaped like a fish creates the final image of a koi fish.


The packaging is certainly pretty. And it’s just won the Good Design Award in Japan, as well as several other international design awards. But don’t discount the sake either. It’s been recognized both in Japan and abroad, most notably at the International Wine Challenge where it won a bronze.




  1. This is quite lovely. Thank you for this article.

  2. How can I buy one? (I live in the United States)

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