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Koi Varieties - Sanke

Welcome to another instalment of 'Koi Varieties' where we will be continuing to discuss the three Gosanke varieties, this time focussing on the Sanke variety. For an overview of the Gosanke varieties, check out our blog post here:, or to read about the first Gosanke variety, the Kohaku, click here:

Taniguch Sanke Female - 50cm
Taniguch Sanke Female - 50cm

The Taisho Sanke (TYE-shoh SAHN-keh), often shortened to Sanke, is a koi with three different colours. A Sanke will have a shiroji (white) base with a combination of hi (red) and sumi (black) markings along the body. It is this pattern that has led to the Sanke often being described as a Kohaku with sumi markings.

In fact, Sanke koi are very closely related to the Kohaku variety. The Sanke variety originated from a Kohaku breeder in the early 1900s. The breeder, Eizburo Hoshino, discovered that some of the fry was being born with slight black markings along the body and he decided to explore this pattern more. Hoshino bred one of the parents that were producing these interesting fry with a Shiro Bekko (a white koi with a black pattern) and had great success. Almost immediately, the fry were being born with the Sanke pattern that we are used to seeing today with equal proportions of each of the three colours.

Unfortunately, Hoshino had no success when trying to breed some of these original Sanke together. All of the fry that were produced had either muddy colouration and patterns or did not display all three of the desired colours. By this point, other breeders had seen some of these koi and were attempting to replicate Hoshino’s results for themselves. Most breeders found that producing the original Sanke koi from Kohaku and Shiro Bekko was straightforward but none of them were able to stabilise the variety and were all finding the same results as Hoshino when breeding them together.

In the mid-1920s, a breeder by the name of Torakichi Kawakami entered the Sanke breeding game, but it wasn’t until 1949 that he had any success. Kawakami decided to breed one of these Sanke females with a normal male Kohaku to great success! Between 1949 and 1953, Kawakami continued to do this and produced a number of good quality Sanke who all produced Sanke fry when bred together. Thus, the variety was stabilised!

Kawakami was the first and the only breeder who was able to stabilise the Sanke variety and so, the bloodline he produced was called the Torazo line after Kawakami’s father and business. In fact, every Sanke koi alive today contains this Torazo bloodline. Some other bloodlines have been established, including Matsunosuke and Jinbei, but each of these bloodlines can be traced back to the original Torazo bloodline.

What should you look for when buying a Sanke koi?

First and foremost, you should consider the body shape of the koi and who the breeder was. These are things you should always consider when buying any variety of koi.

When specifically considering a Sanke koi, you should be looking at the vibrancy of the colours and the positions of the markings. As with Kohaku, the shiroji should be a clear snow-white with no imperfections. The hi should be a deep red with a constant shade throughout. Finally, the sumi should be a deep, dark black although, in juvenile koi, the sumi often appears as a light blue or a grey while the koi is developing.

A good quality Sanke will have a good distribution of both the hi and the sumi along the length of its body, without the shiroji being overpowered. Ideally, the three colours should all be present on the upper half of the body with each colour covering about a third of this space. The more desirable Sanke have no sumi pattern on top of the hi pattern, each colour is distinct and the kiwa (edges) are clear and defined with no overlapping of colours. On the lower half of the body, a Sanke should have mostly shiroji. A small amount of hi is acceptable but there should be no sumi in this area.

Of course, as with any koi, the quality of a koi is much more difficult to judge when the koi is young. In particular, any koi with sumi markings will be very difficult to judge as a baby as the sumi colouration changes and develops a large amount over a koi’s lifetime. In fact, some koi fry will appear to display blue markings where the sumi is starting to develop!

Hopefully, you have learned something new about the Sanke variety today! Keep an eye out for our next Variety Showcase featuring the final Gosanke variety – Showa koi!

Find our current stock of Sanke koi here:

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