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The Japanese love carp! I didn't realize this, but apparently carp, like salmon, swim upstream every year to mate. The image of these fish fighting their way upstream and leap up waterfalls seems to remind the Japanese of vigor and virility. So they stock their garden ponds with carp, paint lots of pictures of carp, and they even decorate their buildings with carp.

1. Here are some very vigorous and virile carp in the pond at Ginkakuji:

2. And some much sleepier carp trying to keep warm in the chill mountain air of a Nikko temple garden:

3. Carp-zilla? No, it's a decorative carp gargoyle at the very peak of the Himeji-jo castle. Yes, that's right, a feudal lord used this big fish (called "Shachihoko") as a symbol of power. To quote from the castle's commemorative guide book, "The head, actually representing a tiger, leers fiercely up from down in the foam while the tail energetically throws up waves and causes rain to fall. The ornament is a charm to guard against fire and ward off disaster. Its heroic figure came to be greatly favored as a castle decoration..."

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