top of page


Koi Festival Square Logo.png

Check out Koi Festival
photo albums:


SATURDAY, MAY 6TH | 12pm - 4pm

"Make and Take" Mini Ikebana
Hosted by: Ikebana International Detroit Chapter 85

*activity available while supplies last*

Kamizumo | Paper Sumo Wrestling 

Hosted by: Great Lakes JET Alumni Association

Story Time | Yasuko and the Dream Eater
with author, A. Kidd

1:00pm , 3:00pm​

Japanese Games + Activities

Hosted by: Belle Isle Conservancy

SUNDAY, MAY 7TH | 12pm - 4pm

Kamizumo | Paper Sumo Wrestling 

Hosted by: Great Lakes JET Alumni Association
(While supplies last)


​​Japanese Games + Activities

Hosted by: Belle Isle Conservancy
(While supplies last)

Musical Performance |  Ensemble Hanabi
1:00 - 1:30pm

Kamishibai | Paper Theater Story Time 

Hosted by: JSD Women's Club

2:00 - 2:30pm

Musical Performance | Great Lakes Taiko
3:00 - 3:30pm


Musical Performance | Sakura Japanese
Instrumental Group
4:00 - 4:30pm


JBS-logo 4C-1.png
download (1).jpg

Special thanks to the Japanese Business Society of Detroit, Japan Society of Detroit Women's Club, Great Lakes JET Alumni Association, and Ikebana International Detroit Chapter 85 for their support of the 2023 Belle Isle Koi Festival. 

ABOUT THE Koi Festival

In 2017, the Belle Isle Conservancy hosted the first Koi Festival at the Belle Isle Aquarium.
The Koi Festival is a family friendly event that brings the community together to celebrate the Japanese 
heritage of the Aquarium’s Koi collection. In alignment with Children’s Day, which is celebrated in Japan on the 5th of May, the Koi Festival celebrates the symbolism of the Japanese carp in its native culture and offers aquarium visitors a chance to experience elements of Japanese culture. Past activities have included traditional games, martial arts demonstrations, 
music, and crafts inspired by Japanese traditions along with a selection of Japanese inspired cuisine. 

how did we get here?

The City of Detroit closed the Belle Isle Aquarium. Of the over 4,000 fish and aquatic creatures, only the Koi fish remained because they were owned by the City. The Belle Isle Botanical Society took care of the Koi . 

Picture 228.jpg
Koi Transfer 1.jpg

Friends of Belle Isle Aquarium  
(FOBIA) signed a service contract with the Detroit Recreation Department to care for the Koi and move them twice a year between the lily pond and the holding tanks in the BIA basement. 

FOBIA created the “Koi Transfer - Koi Wrangling” event with their own volunteers to help transfer the Koi to and from the  lily pond. 

Belle Isle Conservancy Logo white back.j

FOBIA, along with three other island 
affiliate groups, merged to become the Belle Isle Conservancy. The BIC re-opens and manages the Belle Isle Aquarium, now free to the public. FOBIA hosts the first 
community Koi Wrangle that got the public involved with moving the Koi and helped support their commitment to pay for the Koi’s upkeep.

The Koi Wrangle grew to be a large community event with hundreds of participants. 2016 hosted the final Koi Wrangle events. 

Koi transfer 7.jpg

The Lily Pond Stabilization project was 
completed, providing  an outdoor home 
for the Koi year-round. The Koi Festival was introduced in to continue to engage the community in place of the Koi Wrangle. 

Belle Isle Conservancy partners with Consulate-General of Japan in Detroit, Grassroots Exchange Network-Japan, and Japanese American Citizen's League to facilitate strong cultural programming to the community. 


Legend of the Japanese Carp


Japanese folklore tells stories of the Koi fish as warriors of the water who, in some tales, ultimately reach their destiny by turning into a dragon after swimming upstream and reaching the top of the falls. According to legend, if a Koi fish succeeded in climbing the falls at a point called Dragon Gate on the Yellow River, it would be transformed into a dragon. The fish are regarded as a symbol of perseverance in Japan because hey are known for swimming upstream no matter what the conditions are. 

Koi, more specifically, Nishikigoi, is translated from Japanese as “brocaded carp.” Wild koi are native to the fresh bodies of water around the Black, Caspian and Aral Seas. These fish are colorful, ornamental versions of the common, or Amur, carp native to the freshwaters of Asia. The Koi is known in Japan as the "warrior's fish". Each May for the Boy's Day Festival, beautiful Koinobori streamers in the shape of Koi are flown from poles to represent the Japanese parents' hope that their sons will demonstrate courage and strength. The Belle Isle Conservancy Koi Festival is greatly influenced by the Boy's Day celebrations and traditional Japanese festival games.

Though carp domestication is believed to have begun in China as far back as the 4th century, modern Japanese Koi are believed to date back to early 19th-century Japan where wild black carp (or Magoi, a type of common carp) were kept and bred by rice farmers as a food source to survive severe winter weather conditions. The result born from this was a vibrantly colored carp with an admirable figure that stood out from the rest with it’s rare beauty.  As the farmers developed their breeding operations, they figured out how to breed fish of specific color combinations, and as awareness grew many started to appreciate Nishikigoi like a fine work of art. The world was not aware of Koi color variations in Japan until the early 1900’s when Koi were exhibited in Tokyo, Japan and now, after centuries of breeding  there are now dozens of different color varieties of Koi.

Koi can grow up to 3 feet (90 centimeter) in length and weigh more than 12 pounds each. They are omnivorous feeders who will eat food found at all depths of water. Our collection of Koi are fed a floating pellet, though they will also eat aquatic insects, algae and plants.  They can even be trained to eat from your hand. Koi have an average lifespan of 40 years, and it is believed that the oldest-known Koi lived to be nearly 230 years old. A fish's age is determined by testing it's scales, which produce growth rings much like a tree.

koi pond 1.jpg

Belle Isle Aquarium Koi Pond

2019 Koi Festival 

60 YEARS OF SISTER CITY friendship (2020)

Toyota, Aichi Prefecture, Japan is one of 27 Japan-Michigan sister city relationships. This relationship between Detroit and Toyota was established in 1960 on the basis that both places were considered to be "motor cities"and had interests in investing in the automobile industry. A student exchange program was established five years later in 1965. 

The Metro Detroit area is home to a thriving Japanese and Japanese-American community and there are significant connections to Japan throughout the city. A couple of those connections are right here on Belle Isle. Just outside of the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory is a stone lantern that was presented to the City of Detroit by the Mayor of Toyota City and Toyota City Council members to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Detroit + Toyota Sister City relationship. The lantern is inscribed with the Japanese word for "friendship" and was presented on September 21, 1985. There is a second lantern located inside of the Aquarium's Koi pond.

pond lantern.jpg
aswc lantern.jpg

The cherry blossom trees that border the lagoon near the James Scott Memorial Fountain were gifted to the City in 1994 by the Japanese Business Society of Detroit and citizens of Toyota. In November of 2014, a U.S. Forest Service grant was awarded to replace the trees after they'd been destroyed by insects and disease. The Greening of Detroit organized over 100 volunteers to plant the new, disease resistant trees with support from Belle Isle Conservancy and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The cherry blossom trees are a popular attraction each spring. 

cherry blossoms.jpg


Hart Plaza

Further along the riverfront just south of Belle Isle is Hart Plaza, which was designed by the Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988). Noguchi is well known for his sculptural work, most of which is kept at the Isamu Noguchi Museum. However, as a spatial designer, the bulk of his completed work in this category is behind private gates. Hart Plaza is considered to be his most impressive spatial commission and is also his earliest. The three other public spaces that Nagochi has designed are the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center Plaza in Los Angeles, California (1980); Bayfront Park in Miami, Florida (1986); and the privately managed California Scenario in Costa Mesa, California (1981). Hart Plaza also includes the stainless steel Dodge Fountain and Twisting Pylon sculpture, both designed by Noguchi. 


Left: Twisting Pylon                 

Right: Dodge Fountain 

Detroit Institute of Arts

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) launched a permanent Japanese art gallery in early November.

The collection features both traditional and contemporary works. According to museum director Salvador Salort-Pons, the contrast between new and old demonstrates that Japanese art is an ongoing tradition. The exhibit provides context to objects by placing them in their original settings such as tea rooms, domestic rooms, and temples, and seeks to explore how the works can impact space to inspire both stillness and movement in the viewer. One of the pieces featured is a lacquered sculpture of a Rakan, or disciple of the Buddha, another is a sixteenth-century Samurai helmet. It also features digital components, such as an interactive tea ceremony table and a short film of traditional Noh Theater produced in collaboration with Tokyo’s Kanze Kyukokai Theater. The Japan Business Society of Detroit, which also organized a Japan Cultural Developmentprogram at the DIA to promote friendship between the US and Japan, contributed $3.2 million toward the gallery.

dia golden screen.jpg


Iconic Architecture
Minoru Yamasaki, a Japanese-American architect who practiced in Michigan for 40 years, was one of the world's best-known architects in the early 1960s. He is the mind architect behind  several iconic Detroit buildings including the One Woodward building which is his first skyscraper, and the only one he designed prior to the World Trade Center. The building originally housed the Michigan Consolidated Gas Comapny. 


Curbed Detroit lists Yamasaki's most important architecture in and around the City. Check it out the list here. 


One Woodward Ave. 

sister cities.jpg

Toyota City (fmr Koromo City and Koromo-Cho) was the center of the silk trade in Japan during the Meiji Era (1868-1912). At the same time that the industrial landscape shifted away from silk, automobiles began to rise. So, Toyoda Automatic Loom Works, which made looms to produce silk, established an automobile division focused on making cars.  In 1937, Kiichiro Toyoda, the eldest son of Sakichi Toyoda (of Toyoda Automatic Loom Works), started Toyota Motor Co., Ltd. (now Toyota Motor Corporation) in Koromo-Cho. Toyota aspires to be a low-carbon city. Amongst other initiatives, the commitment to sustainable development through public transportation infrastructure has made it an environmental model city. 


The relationship between Detroit and Toyota continues to be one of the most active of Detroit's Sister City connections. As a gesture of goodwill, the two cities established a rapport through exchange: 

bottom of page