Koi Varieties - Showa

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

This is the last of our Koi Varieties blog series focussing on Gosanke koi and today we will be looking at the Showa.


To read our blog about Gosanke koi, visit here: www.kerutokoi.com/post/koi-variety-gosanke.


A Showa Sanshoku (SHOW-wah san-SHO-koo), often shortened to Showa, is a three-coloured koi very similar to the Sanke variety. While the Sanke variety has a base colour of shiroji (white) whith hi (red) and sumi (black) markings, the Showa variety has a base colour of sumi with shiroji and hi markings. These very similar markings can often make it difficult to tell the two varieties apart, especially for koi keepers new to the hobby. We will look at ways of telling the two apart later in this blog.


Jumbo Showa Tosai from breeder Isa
Jumbo Showa Tosai from breeder Isa (39cm)

Currently the Showa variety is the most popular variety out of the Gosanke trio. This is mostly due to its rarity about 20 years ago. As the Showa were the rarest Gosanke koi, they were very valuable, especially the best quality Showa. This then led to the demand increasing as everyone wanted the rarest, most special koi. Therefore, more koi breeders in Japan started breeding Showa koi and now, 20 years later, the number of Showa koi is much greater and so, the variety has become more affordable making them a very popular fish for beginner and experienced Koi keepers alike!



The variety was first bred by a breeder named Jukichi Hoshino. He bred a Kohaku with a Ki Utsuri (black and yellow koi) to produce the first Showa koi in 1927 Unfortunately, the Showa produced was a very poor-looking Showa. The hi and sumi should be vibrant and distinct but this was not the case here. The variety continued to be bred however with each generation looking a little bit better than the last.


It was not until 1965 however, that the first Showa were bred that are of as good a quality as we see today. The breeder Tomiji Kobayashi bred a female Showa with a male Kohaku to great success. He noticed that the yellow colourations in the Ki Utsuri were resulting in the hi of the Showa being dull and off-colour so he tried to counter that by adding the vibrant red of a Kohaku and the result was Showa with the vibrant hi and deep sumi that is very desired. From this success, the variety was suddenly in massive demand and the Showa blossomed into the big Gosanke variety that we know today.


When it comes to choosing the best quality koi, the standard requirements are in place. The hi, shiroji and sumi should all be clear and distinct with vibrant colours - the hi should be a deep, fiery red, the shiroji should be a beautiful snow white, and the sumi should be a deep, dark black.


However, the proportions of each colour are not as strict as a Sanke, for example. Different breeders and koi keepers have different preferences in the proportions of each colour resulting in different varieties of Showa koi. For example, a Kindai Showa has a shiroji domination, meaning that the body has at least 50% shiroji with roughly equal amounts of sumi and hi. You could also come across Hi Showa which have mostly hi and sumi colouration with very minimal amounts of shiroji. As well as these, you could see many, many different Showa koi with different patterns and colouration proportions who are all good quality koi - the patterns come down to the individual breeder or koi keeper's personal preferences.



But how can you tell a Showa from a Sanke koi? The main difference between the two varieties is the positioning of the sumi colourations. On a Sanke, the base could be shiroji and so has no sumi spots below the lateral line on the fish and no sumi on the head of the fish. Therefore, if you see sumi on the bottom half of the koi, or on the head, then it will be a Showa and not a Sanke.


The main point to note is that the pattern of a Showa koi could be described as ‘wrapping around’ the whole body of the koi including the underside while the pattern of a Sanke koi only sits on the top of the fish. When looking at a koi in the traditional top-down view, this can be difficult to see but if you are able to view the koi from the side, this can help a lot in identifying the correct variety.


Another thing to look at when deciding if a koi is a Sanke or a Showa is the pectoral fins. Both Showa and Sanke koi can have sumi markings on the fins but a Showa will only have sumi spots whereas a Sanke will only have sumi stripes. In addition, the fins of a Sanke will be shiroji coloured but the fins of a Showa will be much more translucent.


Of course, an extra complication occurs when you are considering much younger fish. The above guidelines help when identifying an adult koi but not so much when identifying a tosai (a koi up to a year old) or a nisai (a koi between one and two years old). This is because the development of the sumi colouration takes much longer than any other colours. Therefore, a young koi could look like a Sanke but actually be a Showa because the sumi has not yet come through. Even if you do know which variety you have, it is still difficult to judge the quality of young Showa and Sanke which is often a contributing factor as to why good quality examples of these two varieties can be so valuable.

Visit the following page to see our Showa which are currently available for purchase:



Keep an eye out for our next 'Koi Varieties' blog post where we will be moving away from the traditional Gosanke varieties and looking at something a bit different!

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