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Koi Varieties - Shiro Utsuri

In the final ‘Koi Varieties’ blog in our Utsurimono trio, we will be looking at the Shiro Utsuri variety which is the version with a white accent colour. This was the most recent of the Utsurimono varieties to be established but is now the most popular and commonly seen of the three. To find out more about the Hi Utsuri and the Ki Utsuri varieties, have a look at the other blog posts in the Utsuri trio here:

Shiro Utsuri koi from breeder Maruhiro

Shiro Utsuri (SHEE-roh OOT-soo-ree) koi have a sumi (black) body with a shiro (white) pattern over the top. The pattern of a Shiro Utsuri koi is often described as a checkerboard with its alternating sections of sumi and shiro. The variety is quite a simple variety compared to, say, a Goshiki but its simplicity is often one of the main attractions. The sumi and shiro provide a beautiful and dramatic contrast that always stands out and is often visible from quite a distance!

The first Shiro Utsuri koi were bred in the late 1920s, but it is unknown exactly how they were bred and what they were bred from. The most common theory involves the Shiro Bekko koi variety which is a white koi with black patterns as this is the reverse of a Shiro Utsuri koi, which is a black koi with white patterns. However, this is just a theory, and the truth is, and likely always will be, completely unknown! All we do know is that the Shiro Utsuri was first shown to the koi keeping hobby in 1931 and very quickly became a very popular variety with a massively high demand for the variety.

Due to this popularity of the Shiro Utsuri koi and its relative easiness to breed in comparison to the Ki Utsuri and the Hi Utsuri, many breeders have invested a lot of time and effort into refining and improving the Shiro Utsuri variety. Ever since the first generations of Shiro Utsuri koi, breeders have been working to develop and perfect the Shiro Utsuri by improving the quality of the pattern and the colours. Unlike the Hi Utsuri and the Ki Utsuri, a Shiro Utsuri koi can be bred from two Shiro Utsuri parents (breeding two Hi Utsuri or two Ki Utsuri koi results in very poor quality, muddy-looking koi without any of the beautiful Utsuri patterns). Therefore, selective breeding can be used to improve the general quality of this variety. This process involves taking the two nicest parent koi and breeding them to create fry who are generally of equal quality to the parent koi. Some of these fry will be of worse quality than the parents and others will be of higher quality than the parents and these higher quality koi are then chosen to be bred together to create the next generation. This results in each generation being generally higher quality than the previous, thus slowly improving the variety.

Doitsu Shiro Utsuri from breeder Hiroi

These improvements have meant that Shiro Utsuri have become a very competitive koi, often receiving titles and awards at koi shows ever since 1991 when the variety was first entered. In Japan, koi shows are often held indoors, and this means that Shiro Utsuri koi do particularly well because the artificial lighting really makes the contrast of the sumi and shiro colours stand out. However, the Shiro Utsuri were never considered for the biggest prizes or the championship titles because they had one major disadvantage compared to the Gosanke koi and that was size. The Shiro Utsuri is quite a small variety compared to Gosanke and Chagoi koi, with the koi often reaching no more than 90cm in length.

By selectively breeding for size as well as quality, the Omosako koi farm was able to produce the first Shiro Utsuri over 100cm. In fact, this koi then went on to win the championship title at the All-Japan Koi Show in 2013 and became the first Champion Shiro Utsuri. Since then, Omosako have had a very strong presence at koi shows with Shiro Utsuri and are considered to be the best breeder of Shiro Utsuri koi in the world.

Pongoi (Best Quality) Shiro Utsuri Koi

Since the three Utsurimono varieties are very similar, the only difference being the accent colour of the koi, the judging considerations are very similar and the ideal pattern of the three Utsurimono varieties is exactly the same.

Shiro Utsuri koi from breeder Kobayashi

However, since the Shiro Utsuri has been developed and improved drastically by many breeders over the last few decades, the requirements are taken a lot more seriously than with the other Utsuri varieties. While a Hi Utsuri or a Ki Utsuri with some imperfections may still be considered a Pongoi Utsuri, that is not the case with Shiro Utsuri. In general, the standard of the Shiro Utsuri is higher, therefore each individual koi of the variety are judged much more harshly with no imperfections slipping through.

Firstly, the quality of the shiro and the sumi are considered. The shiro should be a beautiful, clean snow-white with no blemishes or imperfections, while the sumi should be a deep, dark black with a consistent shade throughout the body of the fish. Each colour should be bright and consistent giving the fish a clear contrast between its two colours. The kiwa (edges) of each colour should mark a clear boundary between the shiro and the sumi. They should be crisp and clean with no bleeding of either colour over the boundaries.

Once the colours have been considered, we can move on to the pattern and the positioning of the colours. Ideally, each of the two colours should cover around 50% of the body with neither colour covering more than 60% of the body or less than 40% of the body. This gives the fish an even, balanced look and prevents either colour from being overpowered by the other. The colours should also look balanced over the whole body with an even distribution of both colours from the left side to the right side of the body and from the head to the tail. The ideal look for a Shiro Utsuri is similar to a checkerboard with good-sized areas of either colour alternating in a consistent, even pattern down the body of the koi and extending around the sides of the fish below the lateral line to give the appearance that the pattern ‘wraps’ around the fish.

Gin Rin Shiro Utsuri from breeder Okawa

Finally, we should consider the presence of menware and motoguro patterns on the koi which are both ideal for a Shiro Utsuri. A menware pattern is a V-shaped or lightning-shaped sumi pattern extending across the head of the koi running from the mouth to the top of the head. Meanwhile, a motoguro pattern is a fin pattern and describes a sumi presence on the base of the fins extending in a fan shape to cover no more than 50% of each fin. The rest of the fin should either be transparent or have a shiro colouration. The very best Shiro Utsuri will have both of these patterns but a koi with only one of these patterns will still be considered good quality. However, the menware pattern is much rarer than the motoguro so a menware presence will greatly increase the quality of the koi.

Overall, the Shiro Utsuri is a stunning looking koi. With the simplicity of just a black and white pattern, the variety really stands out in any pond!

For our current stock of Shiro Utsuri koi, see here:

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