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Koi Varieties – Tancho Koi

In our latest ‘Koi Varieties’ blog, we are looking at Tancho koi which is a subvariety of koi that refers to a very specific pattern in the hi colouration.

Pure Tancho (tan-CHO) koi are only formally recognised to be subvarieties of the Gosanke koi, that is, Kohaku, Sanke and Showa koi but the pattern itself can be seen in many other varieties including Goshiki and Hariwake koi.

Tancho Showa koi from breeder Oofuchi

The word ‘Tancho’ literally translates to ‘red sun’ and, as per their name, Tancho koi have a single circle of hi (red) colouration on their head resembling a red sun. To be a proper Tancho koi, this must be the only hi on the whole koi. So, a Tancho Kohaku must be pure white with only the Tancho pattern while Tancho Sanke and Tancho Showa can have a black and white pattern on the rest of the body as long as there is no other red apart from on the head. When referring to the pattern rather than the formal subvariety, it is common to refer to it as a ‘Tancho spot’. For example, you could say that a particular Goshiki has a nice Tancho spot without referring to it as a Tancho Goshiki.

The first Tancho variety was the Tancho Kohaku and was produced by breeding 2 Kohaku koi together. This pairing produced a wide range of Kohaku fry with varying amounts of hi. Many of these would have been rejected and only the nicest ones keep on for growing and further breeding. At this point, no breeders were actively looking for a Tancho Kohaku, but it is said that one breeder came across a Kohaku fry with no hi on its body and the perfect spot of hi on its head.

The breeder decided to keep it even though it did not satisfy the requirements of a Kohaku at the time. But it did resemble the Japanese flag with its red sun on a pure white background and that appealed to the koi breeder and to many others who saw the fish. He decided to call it a Tancho koi after the red-crowned crane native to Japan which was called Tancho and had a single red spot on the crown of its head.

Doitsu Tancho Kohaku koi from breeder Kase

From this, the breeder was desperate to breed more koi like this beautiful Tancho he had found but soon found it to be incredibly difficult. The specific pattern of a Tancho is impossible to breed for and the breeders just have to get lucky with their fry. This means that the number of good quality Tancho in a batch of fry is much lower than many other varieties and this was quickly discovered by the original breeder and by other breeders who attempted to repeat his results. Eventually, however, more and more Tancho koi started to hit the market until it eventually became the popular variety that it is today. Unfortunately, it is not any easier to breed Tancho koi nowadays than it was then!

So, what makes the best Tancho koi?

When it comes to judging a Tancho or a Tancho spot, the closer to a perfect circle, the better. The best Tancho spots will be perfectly round and have a lovely, even hi colouration across the Tancho spot. The kiwa (edges) should be crisp and clear with no blurriness between the hi of the Tancho spot and the base colour of the koi.

The exact colour of the Tancho spot is less important. Some people prefer a deeper, fiery red colour while others prefer a bright red-orange colour. Both shades are acceptable, although some koi keepers and breeders will say that the deeper red is preferred due to the resemblance to the Japanese flag. The most important thing is that the shade and the colour are consistent throughout the Tancho spot.

Goshiki koi with a Tancho spot by breeder Aokiya

For a competition Tancho Gosanke, the koi should also have no other markings on the head and have a beautiful clean white right up to the kiwa of the Tancho spot. The only exception here is for Tancho Showa. Since these koi have a sumi (black) base colour, many judges will allow sumi on the head and even on the Tancho spot provided that the main colour on the Tancho spot is the hi.

Tancho koi are one of the more difficult varieties to breed since the perfect Tancho spots are rare and it is this, along with the growing demand for good quality Tancho koi that is making this variety more and more valuable to have in any koi keeper's collection.

Have a look at our current stock of Tancho koi, which you can see here:

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