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Koi Varieties – The Ultimate Guide

At Keruto Koi, we stock a great number of koi of different varieties, and we appreciate that the koi keeping hobby can be very difficult for everyone, newcomers and even experienced koi keepers alike, with the amount of information available and the number of different varieties to choose from. To help understand the different koi varieties that are available here at Keruto Koi, we have put together this Ultimate Guide containing useful information on all of the most popular koi varieties, and some more unusual varieties as well!



What are koi carp?


Koi fish are a very popular species of carp that have been bred and kept as ornamental fish for hundreds of years. The koi keeping hobby dates back as far as 200BC when the Magoi carp (meaning ‘common carp’) was brought to Japan from China. The Magoi carp was originally bred as a food source, but people quickly started keeping them as pets once skin colour mutations began appearing naturally. It wasn’t until the late 19th century and early 20th century, however, that koi keeping became a popular hobby. Until then, only the richest aristocrats and royalty kept the Magoi carp as ornamental pets rather than eating them.


The koi keeping hobby as we know it started with the Asagi koi which was first recognised as an ornamental carp around 160 years ago. This koi was often kept by the carp farmers due to its interesting patterns and prompted the popularity of the hobby which led to all sorts of people keeping carp fish, not just the upper class. Shortly after the Asagi had become popular, other mutations in the carp began popping up and farmers began to keep more and more different carp fish.


Of course, at this point, the farmers decided to give these fish a different name to differentiate the pet Magoi carp from the Magoi carp for eating. Thus, the ornamental carp were named ‘Nishikigoi’ which literally translates as ‘swimming jewel’ and basically means beautiful fish. Over time, with more and more people joining the hobby, the word was shortened to ‘koi’ which is the commonly used word nowadays.



About this guide


This guide contains information about a great number of different koi varieties. Use the links at the top to jump to different parts of the page. Under each variety is some brief information about the variety and its history, a picture of a Pongoi (best quality) koi of the variety and a pronunciation guide. You will also find links to our ‘Koi Varieties’ blog post for each variety where you can read more about it and a link to the ‘For Sale’ page where you can view our current stock of each variety.





A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V


A


Aka Matsuba

Aka Matsuba koi from breeder Aokiya

Matsuba koi are a subvariety of koi that are all single-coloured koi with a black net-like reticulation pattern, some Matsuba varieties, such as Gin Matsuba and Kin Matsuba, are metallic koi while other Matsuba varieties, such as Ki Matsuba and Shiro Matsuba are non-metallic koi. The Aka Matsuba koi is the red, non-metallic version of the subvariety.


The word Matsubagoi (MAHT-soo-BAH-goy) translates as ‘pine needles’ and refers to the pinecone-effect seen on a koi when it has reticulated scales. Reticulation means that the scales themselves have a tint to them, resulting in a strong contrast between the skin colour of the koi and the tint colour on the scales. This pattern gives the koi a net-like appearance or a pine-cone appearance. Matsubagoi technically refers to any reticulated koi but is usually only used when talking about a single-coloured reticulated koi. For such fish, we usually add a prefix, such as Aka, to describe the colour of the koi and shorten ‘Matsubagoi’ to ‘Matsuba’.


All Matsuba koi were created in some way from the Asagi variety, which is a blue koi with strong reticulated scales and a hi (red) pattern along the sides of the body. The Aka Matsuba was created from a pairing of a high-red Kohaku (white fish with red markings, the high-red means it is a mostly red Kohaku) and a Hi Asagi (variation of Asagi koi with more red colouration than normal) in the late 1950s. This pairing resulted in a wide range of fry, mostly with reticulation but some without, and a wide range of colours, with blues, whites, and reds visible across the generation. The few fry that had only red colouration were the koi that, with a little refinement, would soon become the Aka Matsuba variety with strong red colouration from the Hi Asagi koi and the Kohaku koi and a good quality reticulation from the Asagi koi.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Hi (red) base colour

· Reticulation pattern


 

Asagi

Asagi koi from breeder Oya

Asagi (ah-SAH-gee) are grey-blue koi with reticulation in the scales and red colouration along the sides of the fish, and the fins. These koi are typically quite subdued, and calm compared to other varieties of koi, and it is because of this, as well as the fact that they are such an established variety, that the Asagi variety is very commonly seen in many ponds.


Many koi keepers argue that Asagi is the greatest variety of koi because it was the first recognized ornamental carp, that is, the first koi variety. The ancestor fish of koi carp is the Magoi (mah-GOY) wild carp which was a staple food in many Japanese diets for hundreds of years before the first koi came to be. The Magoi black carp was first brought to Japan in roughly 200BC by an invading force from China.


It was not until about 160 years ago when Magoi farmers decided to breed the fish as ornamental fish. At that point, they had been farming Magoi for over 2000 years since it was introduced to Japan. Before then, the occasional Magoi had been born with mutations causing colour changes in the skin and scales, but the farmers considered these to be defects. Therefore, the fish were removed from the gene pool so that these defects would not continue to be present. However, some farmers decided to keep these fish as trophies and as "collectors’ fish" as they looked different and more interesting than the standard Magoi. This then led to local farmers sharing their "defective" Magois and competing with each other over who has the best fish. As you can imagine, the farmers then decided to start breeding these Magoi so as to get more mutations that could be shown off. These farmers were in fact the first koi breeders.


It did not take many generations of these mutated Magois before the typical pattern that is associated with modern Asagi started to crop up. Once this pattern started to become popular, so did the practice of keeping these fish as pets. More and more people wanted them, and not all farmers. Thus begin the market for Asagi fish and with it came the hobby of koi keeping.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Clean head

· Amime scale reticulation pattern

· Hi (red) pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

B


Benigoi

Benigoi koi from breeder Hirasawa

Benigoi (BEN-ee-GOY) koi are non-metallic, solid red or orange koi fish. The name Benigoi literally translates as ‘red koi’. You may have noticed that, in the koi keeping hobby, there are a few different Japanese terms meaning ‘red’, the most common of which is ‘hi’. This koi variety is called ‘Benigoi’ rather than ‘Higoi’ because the ideal colour of the koi is an orange-red associated with the word ‘beni’, rather than the deep, fiery red associated with the word ‘hi’, such as on a Kohaku koi.


The Benigoi koi variety was one of the original koi varieties, first popularised in the early 1920s. The variety began with the Magoi carp which was a black wild carp common in Japan in the 18th and 19th centuries. Around the beginning of the 19th century, wild carp started to become pets rather than purely food and koi keeping started to become a hobby. Many of the early koi varieties came about as a variation or a mutation of the wild carp and the Benigoi is no exception. In fact, the very first variation of the wild carp seen by the carp farmers was the red-bellied Magoi. By selectively breeding pairs of wild Magoi that each have small amounts of red colouration on their underside, farmers were able to produce a Magoi with a purely red belly – the appropriately named red-bellied Magoi! This red-bellied Magoi was then bred with the Kohaku koi (a white koi with a red pattern) to produce a pure red fish, the Benigoi.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Beni (red) colouration

· Fukurin reticulation pattern


 

C


Chagoi

Chagoi koi from breeder Yamazaki

The Chagoi (CHAH-goy) koi, literally translating to ‘brown carp’ are an old variety of koi that look very similar to the wild carp. They are typically referred to as the ’gentle giant’ as they tend to grow much bigger than other koi varieties and are very docile around people. They will typically come and greet you at the top of the pond, be willing to be touched, and will often encourage other koi in the pond to be more friendly.


Chagoi koi were first bred in the Taisho Era (the period from 1912 to 1926 when Emperor Taisho controlled Japan). These koi were different from the many other varieties of ornamental carp as they were not bred specifically to create a variety of koi, or for a particular colour, pattern or even skin type. Instead, Chagoi were created accidentally from selectively breeding traits in the common carp that made them more valuable as food and easier to keep. That is, they bred the fish to be big as well as tame and friendly. With each new generation of Magoi (common carp), the farmers chose to grow on and breed only the biggest, friendliest fish and within only a few generations, the majority of fish born were lovely and tame. At this point, their colours had changed a little and they were significantly different from the wild Magoi in both size and temperament that they were often kept as pets and even sold as pets rather than as food. It was at this point that the variety was formally named the Chagoi.


As the years passed and more varieties were developed, it became clear that the breeding methods used to stabilise the varieties were having a negative effect on the size of the koi and the rate of growth. Koi that were significantly different from the wild koi, such as Doitsu koi, typically grew a lot slower and rarely reached the same size as Chagoi koi. Even today, almost all the prizes for the largest koi go to Chagoi koi and the variety has the largest percentage of Jumbo koi (koi from a good bloodline of larger fish).


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Cha (brown) colouration

· Fukurin reticulation pattern


 

G


Ginga

Ginga koi from breeder Aokiya

The Ginga (geen-GAH) koi is the Wagoi (meaning non-Doitsu) version of a Kumonryu. So, a Ginga koi is a scaled, metallic white koi with a shifting black pattern.


The word Ginga translates as ‘Milky Way’ and was chosen as the patterns and scales of the Ginga koi look like the Milky Way and the stars we can see at night. It was also chosen to reference the constantly changing sumi (black) pattern since the star’s positions are constantly changing as they move around the sky depending on the season and time of year.


The Kumonryu koi shot to popularity shortly after it was introduced to the hobby and has fascinated many koi keepers and breeders. Following on from this popularity, the Ginga koi was created as a fully scaled variation of the Kumonryu but quickly became its own variety. The Ginga koi was created from a pairing of a Kumonryu koi and a Matsukawabake koi which is a non-metallic, scaled white koi with a constantly changing black pattern. That is, the Matsukawabake is the scaled version of a Kikokuryu. This pairing gave the Ginga koi the colours and patterns found in both parent varieties as well as the Wagoi (normal) scales from the Matsukawabake and the metallic skin from the Kikokuryu.


As with both the Kumonryu and Kikokuryu koi discussed before, the sumi pattern of the Ginga koi is constantly changing. It is not certain yet exactly what is causing the pattern to change but changes have been observed in individual fish from changing the water conditions, temperature, diet, stress levels, pH, and many other variables. For some koi, the change will be very gradual and very minimal. For others, the change can be very quick and very drastic. For still others, it can be anything in between. One thing is for sure – the changes in each individual Ginga koi make it a very interesting variety to own and watch as you never know what to expect when you look into your pond!


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Sumi (black) colour quality

· Metallic lustre and sheen


 

Gin Matsuba

Gin Matsuba koi from breeder Oofuchi

The term Gin Matsuba (GEEN maht-SOO-bah) translates as ‘silver pinecone’ and describes exactly what this fish looks like! A Gin Matsuba koi is a metallic shiro (white) koi with deep, dark reticulation in the scales. The metallic shiro gives the fish a silvery appearance while the reticulation gives the Matsuba variety its recognisable pinecone, or net-like, appearance.


The Gin Matsuba koi first became known to the koi keeping hobby in the 1960s when an Asagi koi (a blue koi with dark reticulation and a red pattern along the sides of the fish) was bred together with a Platinum Ogon koi (a metallic single-coloured, white koi). This resulted in the Gin Matsuba koi which has the appearance of a Platinum Ogon koi but with the addition of the reticulated scales from the Asagi koi.


In fact, when Gin Matsuba koi are young, as with many other koi varieties, the darker colours take longer to develop and appear. This means that young Gin Matsuba koi usually do not have visible reticulation and are therefore often mistaken for Platinum Ogon koi. With some Gin Matsuba, a slight blue tinge can be seen which is the reticulation underneath the skin, waiting to come through, but many will not even show this. One trick that we use here at Keruto Koi to tell the difference between Gin Matsuba koi and Platinum Ogon koi is to put the young koi in a white bowl or bucket and this contrasting colour allows any darker markings under the skin to be visible!


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Reticulation scale pattern

· Metallic lustre and sheen


 

Gin Rin

Gin Rin Kohaku koi from breeder Koda

The common name Gin Rin (GEEN-leen) is actually shortened from the Japanese name Kin-Gin-Rin (keen-GEEN-leen) and is translated as ‘golden-silver reflective scales’. As the name suggests, Gin Rin koi have beautiful, sparkling scales that appear to be of either a gold or silver colour. These scales give the koi a lovely, glittery effect and look stunning at all times, but especially so on particularly sunny days.


Any koi variety can have Gin Rin scales and when a koi has this scale type, the variety name is preceded by the words Gin Rin. For example, you could have Gin Kin Kohaku, Gin Rin Benigoi, or Gin Rin Goshiki. You could even have Gin Rin Doitsu varieties!


The Gin Rin variety was created by a very respected breeder called Eizaburo Hoshino in the early 20th century. The story that has been passed down over the last 100 years or so is that Hoshino came across a local fisherman who had caught a Magoi fish (a Japanese common carp, a black fish from which all modern koi descend) whose scales glittered and shimmered magnificently. Hoshino brought this fish and bred it with some of his own koi to eventually create the first proper Gin Rin koi. The scale type took a long time and a lot of work by various breeders throughout Japan to be fully stabilised but by the 1950s, the Gin Rin type was fully established and even refined into four distinct subgroups: Diamond, Peal, Beta and Kado.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Minimum three rows of Gin Rin scales

· Scale positions

· Consistency of Gin Rin

· Quality of base variety


 

Goromo

Goromo koi from breeder Otsuka

The word Goromo is used to refer to the group of Ai (EYE) Goromo, Budo (BOO-doh) Goromo and Sumi (SOO-mee) Goromo which are all essentially Kohaku koi with the addition of reticulation. Between these three koi varieties, the differences are related to the reticulation pattern and its colouration. In a reticulation pattern normally, each scale has a slight tint over it in a gradient pattern. This results in the individual scales being emphasised and gives the koi the appearance of a net or a mesh. Each of the three types of Goromo has a slightly different pattern:


· Ai Goromo – this koi has reticulation visible only on the inside of scales in the hi (red) pattern and the reticulation itself has an ai (blue) tint

· Budo Goromo – this koi has the same colour tint in the reticulation as the Ai Goromo, but the tint appears to surround each scale in the hi pattern giving the fish a darker appearance

· Sumi Goromo – as with the Ai Goromo, this koi has the reticulation pattern on the inside of the scales in the hi pattern, but the tint has a sumi (black) colouration making this koi the darkest of the three Goromo varieties.


The first koi in the Koromo category was the Ai Goromo koi and this was first bred in the 1950s from a pairing of a Kohaku (a white koi with a red pattern) and an Asagi koi (a blue koi with a red pattern and a reticulation pattern in the scales). This resulted, after a few years of development and perfection, in a koi that had the white base and the red pattern of the Kohaku with the addition of a reticulation pattern in the red pattern. And so, the Ai Goromo was born and soon after, from selective breeding, the Budo and Sumi Goromo varieties became known to the koi hobby.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Reticulation scale pattern

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Hi (red) pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

Goshiki

Goshiki koi from breeder Aokiya

Goshiki (GOSH-key) koi are one of the most desirable koi varieties due to their unique colours and eye-catching patterns. Goshiki translates as ‘Five Colours’ and refers to the five colours seen in this variety of koi. These consist of the shiro (white) base colour, the hi (red) Kohaku-like pattern, the sumi (black) pattern over the whole top of the fish, the Konjo (dark blue) reticulation in the scales on the top of the koi, and the Akebi (light blue) reticulation in the scales on the side of the body.


The reticulation in the scales from the Asagi parent give this koi a fantastic pattern but due to the fishnet-like appearance over its whole body and it makes each of the scales distinctive and stand out on top of the black and white colouring below. On top of the body, the scales appear to be mostly black but underneath the koi, and on its sides, the scales are much whiter with a lovely gradient effect between the black on top and the white below. As well as all this, the Goshiki has a stunning red pattern from the Kohaku parent that appears to float on top of the black colour and reticulated scales. Every part of the Goshiki pattern combines together to result in a stunning looking fish that will truly take your breath away.


The Goshiki koi are an interesting variety because they have 2 different versions or styles. The first version, called the ‘dark’ or ‘Kuro’ Goshiki is much darker with stronger, deeper sumi (black) and is the original version. The second style is the newer ‘light’ or ‘Mameshibori’ Goshiki and has sumi that is much less developed resulting in a koi that looks more like a Kohaku but with the reticulated scales. The newer style, the Mameshibori Goshiki, is a lot rarer and more expensive because the old style, the Kuro Goshiki, is well-established and is more commonly bred. Both styles have the same 5 colours and the same requirements for the colours, the only difference being the strength of the sumi.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Hi (red) pattern

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Sumi (black) pattern

· Amime reticulation pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

H


Hi Utsuri

Hi Utsuri koi from breeder Marusei

Hi Utsuri (hee OOT-soo-REE) koi are a black koi with bright, vibrant red patterns over the body, head, and fins of the fish. They are one koi in the subvariety Utsurimono which covers three varieties of black koi, each with a different, eye-catching accent colour.


The Hi Utsuri was first bred in the late 1910s as a result of breeding a Ki Utsuri (black koi with yellow accent patterns) and a Kohaku (white koi with red patterns). Over the next few years, koi breeders developed and improved upon this pairing and, in 1924, they were first taken to a koi show in Japan where people were very taken with this new variety. Due to their similarity with the Ki Utsuri which was another new (at the time) koi variety, these red and black fish were named Hi Utsuri, a name which emphasises the strong distinction and contrast between the hi (red) and the sumi (black).


Within only a few years, the popularity and demand for these new Hi Utsuri koi have risen spectacularly and, for a short period of time in the late 1920s, the Hi Utsuri were the most desired and valuable koi variety in Japan, even more so than the Gosanke varieties. Even almost 100 years later, while the demand has decreased a little and been replaced by many other, newer, and more exciting varieties over the years, Hi Utsuri remain a very popular koi. Unfortunately, the main way of breeding Hi Utsuri koi is still the same way as it was 100 years ago, that is as a by-product of Showa breeding, meaning that the numbers of this variety are quite low with no direct way of breeding good quality koi easily.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Sumi (black) base colour

· Hi (red) pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

K


Kigoi

Kigoi koi from breeder Ikarashi Ozumi

Kigoi (KEE-goy) koi are a non-metallic, solid yellow koi that is normally categorised as a Kawarigoi (kah-WAH-ree-GOY) koi, which refers to all non-metallic koi that do not fit in any other classification of koi. In this group, you will also find Benigoi, Chagoi, Ochiba and other koi varieties that do not have their own classifications.


The Kigoi koi variety was another one of the original koi varieties, first popularised in the late 1920s. The variety began with the Magoi carp which was a black wild carp common in Japan in the 18th and 19th centuries. Around the beginning of the 19th century, wild carp started to become pets rather than purely food and koi keeping started to become a hobby. Many of the early koi varieties came about as a variation or a mutation of the wild carp and the Kigoi is no exception. The Kigoi variety actually came about from selectively breeding the Benigoi koi variety which is the single-coloured, non-metallic red variety and had only just been developed. By selectively breeding pairs of lighter coloured Benigoi koi, the koi breeders were able to slowly reduce the amount of red in the skin of the koi, leaving a bright yellow coloured koi, the Kigoi koi!


At some point in the early 20th century, during the breeding process of Kigoi koi, an albino mutation appeared. In most other varieties, a fish with a mutation like this would be removed from the breeding population but in this case, the breeder liked the way the mutation appeared in this fish and so kept it in the breeding population and eventually produced the Akame Kigoi koi. The albino mutation in this variety causes the fish to be devoid of all pigments except yellow, orange and red. This means that the body of the fish looks the same, but the koi also has bright red eyes where the black pigment in the eye is missing. This variety is very rare and is only bred by one koi farm, Kloubec Koi Farm in America, outside of Japan but it is very highly desirable!


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Ki (yellow) colouration

· Fukurin reticulation pattern


 

Kikokuryu

Kikokuryu koi from breeder Aokiya

The Kikokuryu (KEE-koo-KUR-ree-YOO) koi is essentially a metallic version of a Kumonryu koi. That is, a Kikokuryu koi is a metallic, scaleless white coloured koi with black markings. It was originally created by breeding a Kumonryu koi with a Doitsu Platinum Ogon koi which is a scaleless, metallic koi with a solid white colour. This pairing improved the white quality in the skin of the koi while also giving it the lovely metallic sheen that is so recognisable.


As with Kumonryu koi, the Kikokuryu has an ever-changing sumi pattern referred to as ‘Henka Sumi’. The word Kikokuryu translates to ‘Shining Black Dragon’ and is a reference to the Kumonryu koi (‘Nine Crested Dragon’) as well as to the metallic sheen. In the same way as Kumonryu koi, many factors can affect the sumi pattern and the speed at which it changes. It can be affected by temperature, pH changes, water quality, diet, stress, age as well as other factors and no two fish will change in the same way. Some koi keep a very similar pattern but the black and white colours swap, while others can be completely unrecognisable. Some fish will change pattern within weeks, others will change so slowly that the pattern appears stable. Every fish is different, the only guarantee is that the sumi will change somehow eventually!


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Sumi (black) colour quality

· Metallic lustre and sheen


 

Kikusui

Kikusui koi from breeder Aokiya

The Kikusui (KEE-coo-SOO-wee) koi is essentially a Doitsu version of a Hariwake koi which is a metallic, two-coloured koi with a white base colour and a red, orange, or yellow pattern on top of the white colouration. A Kikusui is often described as a metallic, Doitsu Kohaku koi as it is a scaleless, white koi with a red pattern over the white and a reflective sheen, or lustre, in the skin of the koi.


The Kikusui is one of the koi varieties that unfortunately we do not know a lot about, historically. It is unknown when the first Kikusui was bred but they have been familiar for a number of decades now, and the variety has certainly made a name for itself at many big koi shows, especially in the last 15-20 years. Nowadays, there are a few ways to produce Kikusui koi. Essentially, a Kohaku is bred to a Platinum Ogon (pure white, metallic koi) to produce a metallic Kohaku and then this metallic Kohaku is bred to a Doitsu variety to produce the metallic, Doitsu Kohaku koi. To save time, however, many breeders combine the two steps into one by pairing a Kohaku and a Doitsu Platinum Ogon or by pairing a Doitsu Kohaku and a Platinum Ogon. Both methods produce good results with a roughly equal outcome of good quality koi, but the preferred pairing is the Doitsu Kohaku and the Platinum Ogon as there are a good number of each of these koi varieties available, and therefore there are a good number of good quality koi of these varieties. On the other hand, the Doitsu Platinum Ogon is a little less common and so there are fewer good quality koi of this variety to choose from for breeding purposes.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Hi (red) pattern

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Metallic lustre and sheen

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

Ki Matsuba

Ki Matsuba koi from breeder Aokiya

The word Matsubagoi (maht-SOO-bah-GOY) translates as ‘pinecone carp’ and refers to the very recognisable pinecone or net-like pattern visible on all Matsuba koi. This pattern is caused by a reticulation pattern on the scales of the koi and originally comes from the Asagi koi, one of the original ornamental carp varieties. Matsuba koi come in many different colours, with some metallic versions, like the white Gin Matsuba, and some non-metallic versions, like the red Aka Matsuba. The Ki Matsuba (KEE maht-SOO-bah) is one of these latter, non-metallic variations with a beautiful sunshine-yellow base colour.


The Ki Matsuba variety began with the Kin Matsuba koi, which is a yellow, metallic koi with the Matsuba reticulation. This metallic koi was created in the 1950s from a pairing of a Yamabuki Ogon (a single-coloured, yellow metallic koi, the ancestor of all metallic koi) and a Shiro Matsuba (a single-coloured, white koi with reticulation in the scales). This pairing resulted in koi which had the metallic, yellow colour of the Yamabuki Ogon with the reticulated scales of the Shiro Matsuba and were named Kin Matsuba, meaning ‘golden pinecone’. From the Kin Matsuba, the Ki Matsuba was created using selective breeding to slowly reduce the amount of sheen and lustre in the skin until a non-metallic version of the Kin Matsuba was created in the 1960s and named Ki Matsuba, meaning ‘yellow pinecone’.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Ki (yellow) base colour

· Reticulation scale pattern

· Metallic lustre and sheen


 

Ki Utsuri

Ki Utsuri koi from breeder Maruhiro

A Ki Utsuri (KEE oot-SOO-ree) koi is a black koi with a yellow pattern overlaid giving it a checkerboard or a bumblebee-like appearance. It was the very first Utsuri variety to be both created and established but is now the rarest of the 3 Utsuri types due to the difficulty breeding them compared to the Shiro and Hi Utsuri koi.


Utsurimono (oot-SOO-ree-MOH-noh), usually shortened to Utsuri, are a subvariety of koi who have a deep sumi (black) base colour with another, contrasting and bright accent colour overlaid on the black. The first Utsurimono had a yellow accent colour and were first bred in the late 19th Century. These first Utsuri koi were simply called Utsurimono koi which translates as ‘reflection’ and refers to the brightness of the accent pattern in contrast with the deep sumi colouration. Within time, however, the name was shortened to Utsuri and once the hi (red) version had been bred, the prefixes Ki or Hi were added to indicate the Utsuri subvariety.


The Ki Utsuri koi were first bred in the 1890s from a pairing of a Magoi koi (a black wild carp) and a Ki Bekko koi (a lemon-yellow koi with a sumi pattern) to create the black koi with a ki (yellow) pattern. Unfortunately, the pairing resulted in very few good Ki Utsuri koi and pairings of two Ki Utsuri koi had even less success. It was not until 1921 when an Asagi (a grey-blue koi with reticulated scales and a red pattern, line bred from the Magoi carp) was bred to the Ki Bekko that the Ki Utsuri variety was successfully established with consistent, good quality results.


However, within a few years the Hi Utsuri, an Utsuri with red colouration, had been developed and rapidly overtook the Ki Utsuri in popularity due to it being an easier variety to breed which resulted in more Hi Utsuri koi being available. This meant that the Ki Utsuri became incredibly rare for the next 7 decades when Maruyo and Otsuka Koi Farms both agreed to revitalise the variety before they went extinct. The two koi farms bred thousands of Ki Utsuri over the next few years and imported them all over the world, reintroducing them to the hobby and taking them to koi shows. Their hard work has paid off and the Ki Utsuri is familiar to many koi keepers and certainly far from extinct!


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Sumi (black) base colour

· Ki (yellow) pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

Kohaku

Kohaku koi from breeder Okawa

When you think of a koi fish, most people will imagine a fish with some combination of red and white colouration. This is because these colours are very well established in the koi world and have been bred for a very long time. Kohaku (koh-HAH-koo) koi are white koi with a red pattern over the top and are one of the most popular and well-known koi varieties and one of the oldest varieties! Not only are they one of the most traditional koi and a type of Gosanke koi, but they are also often a koi-keepers first variety of koi. Even non-koi enthusiasts will recognise the distinct colouration of this incredible variety. It is this that gives the Kohaku the nickname ‘The King of Koi’.


The hi pattern on a Kohaku koi can be seen to have many different shapes and patterns. Some of the most commonly seen patterns on a Kohaku koi include: Tancho, where the koi has only a single hi spot on the nose; Maruten, which is similar to a Tancho but with additional hi markings down the body of the koi; Straight Hi, where the koi has a continuous, connected red pattern down its body; Inazuma, which is similar to a Straight Hi but has the pattern running in a zig-zag shape; and stepped patterns. The stepped patterns are the most common and involve the koi having a number of islands of hi that are completely disconnected from each other, similar to stepping stones. These patterns are named depending on the number of steps and the most popular ones are the Nidan (two-stepped) and the Sandan (three-stepped) patterns.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Hi (red) pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

Kujaku

Kujaku koi from breeder Hirasawa

Kujaku koi are a very beautiful variety of koi. In fact, the full name for the variety is Kujaku Ogon which translates as ‘Peacock’ and the koi itself are often nicknamed the Peacock koi here in the UK!


A Kujaku koi is a metallic koi with strong reticulation in the scales resulting in the fish having a net-like look running down its back. This reticulation is then overlaid with either a red, orange, yellow or gold Kohaku-type pattern resulting in a very striking effect. It is no wonder that Kujaku koi are a very desired variety for many koi keepers, new and experienced alike!


The Kujaku koi is a relatively recent variety of koi that was originally bred in the 1960s by Nishi Hirasawa of Hiranishi Fish Farms in Japan. The variety was first created by breeding a Hariwake koi (a two-coloured koi with platinum and either metallic yellow, gold or orange colouration) with a Shusui koi (a doitsu, or scaleless, koi with a blue-grey base colour and red colouration on the sides and fins).


Shortly after it was first bred, the Kujaku koi variety quickly made its way into the public eye through shows and competitions. It was originally judged in the larger category of Hikarimoyo (meaning a metallic koi with two or more colours) at competitions. Recently, however, the reputation of Kujaku koi has shot up and their popularity at competitions has led to them being judged in their own category!


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Metallic lustre and sheen

· Reticulation scale pattern

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Hi (red) pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

Kumonryu

Kumonryu koi from breeder Ikarashi Ozumi

The Kumonryu (COME-on-REE-yoo) koi comes from a long line of koi that began with a darker coloured variant of the wild Magoi (mah-GOY) koi and ended with the Kumonryu koi, a scaleless koi with a shiro (white) base colour and a sumi (black) pattern on top.


The most interesting thing about this koi and what makes it so unique is its colour-changing abilities. The Kumonryu koi changes its patterns quicker and more often than any other variety of koi. This instability in the pattern is referred to as ‘Henka Sumi’ and is what originally gave Kumonryu its name which literally translates as ‘Nine Crested Dragon’ and refers to a traditional Japanese legend where a dragon called Ryu transforms into a cloud racing across the sky.


Over a period of time, a Kumonryu can change between solid black, solid white and everything in between. It is not yet certain exactly what causes such drastic colour changes but contributing factors can include water quality, temperature, changes in pH, diet, age, stress, and many others. The rate of change can also vary massively between different Kumonryu koi with some changing patterns so slowly that they may appear to be stable at times, and others changing pattern entirely within a few weeks!


Due to the colour-changing nature of the Kumonryu koi, it can be very hard to judge this variety and decide which one to add to your pond. For any Kumonryu koi, the most important thing is to focus on the body and the breeder of the fish as this will help ensure you have the best fish.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Sumi (black) colour quality


 

L


Lemon Hariwake

Lemon Hariwake koi from breeder Oofuchi

The Hariwake (HAH-ree-WAH-keh) subvariety of koi describes two coloured koi where one of the colours is platinum, or metallic white, and the other colour is a metallic colour, either yellow or orange. Therefore, a Lemon Hariwake is a koi with a platinum base colouration and a metallic lemon-yellow pattern.


It is unknown exactly when the first Hariwake koi was bred but we know that the subvariety was created from a pairing of a Kohaku (white koi with red patterns) and a Platinum Ogon (a metallic pure-white koi) to create a metallic Kohaku, called the Hariwake koi. We also know that the Platinum Ogon variety was first bred in 1947 by a breeder called Sawata Aoki and we know that a Hariwake koi was bred to a Shusui (Doitsu blue koi with red patterns along the side of the fish) to create the Doitsu Kujaku variety in the early 1960s. Therefore, the Hariwake must have been first bred between 1947 and the early 1960s and the commonly accepted time frame is the 1950s.


The first Hariwake koi were essentially metallic Kohaku with deep, vibrant red patterns but within a couple of decades, breeders began to expand the Hariwake variety by growing on koi with orange or yellow patterns instead of the deep red of the Kohaku. This resulted in koi with beni (orange-red) or ki (yellow) patterned Hariwake koi. The most popular out of these varieties was the lemon-yellow version which quickly became the Lemon Hariwake koi variety.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Ki (yellow) pattern

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Metallic lustre and sheen

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

M


Matsukawabake

Matsukawabake koi from breeder Yamanaka Ohya

Matsukawabake (math-SOO-kah-wah-BAHK-keh) koi is a scaled, non-metallic version of the Kumonryu, Kikokuryu and Ginga koi varieties. The Matsukawabake koi were originally created from a desire to produce more variations of the changing sumi (black) pattern seen in Kumonryu and Kikokuryu koi as these koi have been incredibly popular with koi keepers across the world. The Matsukawabake koi was also created in an attempt to improve the stabilisation of the sumi pattern as the sumi is a lot more stable in older Kumonryu koi than in Kikokuryu koi. We will talk more about what this means later on.


The attempt was very successful quite early on, with many koi breeders producing similar results within only a few generations by pairing a Kumonryu koi with a Shiro Utsuri koi (a black and white non-metallic, scaled koi). This pairing resulted in a koi that looked like the Shiro Utsuri with no metallic skin and fully scaled but it also had the desired changing sumi pattern of the Kumonryu. Meaning, that over a Matsukawabake koi’s lifetime, it can be fully white, fully black, and anything in between! This pattern is particularly desirable to many koi keepers because the fish is constantly changing sometimes the change can be very rapid, other times the change is very slow. Regardless, it is always interesting the look in a pond with one of these fish and see what is happening to the pattern.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Sumi (black) colour quality


 

O


Ochiba

Ochiba koi from breeder Oofuchi

Ochibashigure (OOH-chee-BAH-shee-GORE-ay), often shortened to Ochiba (OOH-chee-BAH), is a brown koi fish with an orange pattern reminiscent of a Kohaku pattern. The name translates directly as ‘leaves of Autumn in the water’ which compares the pattern colour to the reds and oranges of Autumn and the brown base colour to a typical Japanese mud pond, where koi carp are most commonly found.


The Ochiba koi was first bred in the mid-90s from a pairing of a Chagoi koi (a light brown koi that is very similar to a wild carp) and a Soragoi koi (a grey-blue single-coloured koi). The result was a koi with the grey-blue colour of the Soragoi, overlaid with a pattern in the colour of the brown of the Chagoi. Over the following years, the variety has been developed to develop the brown markings into a more bronze or orange colour, with both colours being very popular in the variety today.


One of the biggest draws of an Ochiba koi is in its personality. The Chagoi, in particular, is a very friendly koi, often greeting you at the pond and being easy to encourage hand feeding. By using the Chagoi as a parent koi for the Ochiba, the breeders have ensured that this new variety has the same fantastic personality as the Chagoi.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Cha (brown) base colour

· Orenji (orange) pattern

· Fukurin reticulation pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

S


Sanke

Maruten Sanke koi from breeder Taniguchi

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 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.


After many years of developing the variety and the breeding process, the Sanke was fully stabilised as a koi variety around 1950 and has remained one of the most popular koi varieties and one of the Gosanke trio ever since.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Shiro (white) base colour

· Hi (red) pattern

· Sumi (black) pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

Shiro Utsuri

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 draws. The sumi and shiro provide a beautiful and dramatic contrast that always stands out and is often visible from quite a distance!


The Shiro Utsuri was first 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.


Over the next 60 years, a number of improvements to the variety 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.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Sumi (black) base colour

· Shiro (white) pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

Showa

Showa koi from breeder Isa

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) with 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.


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 that this process was able to reliably produce Showa of the same quality that we see today but, from the success of the long breeding process, the variety was suddenly in massive demand and the Showa variety blossomed into the big Gosanke variety that we know today.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Sumi (white) base colour

· Hi (red) pattern

· Shiro (black) pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

Shusui

Shusui koi from breeder Oofuchi

Shusui (SHOO-soo-EE) koi are the Doitsu version of Asagi koi. They are a grey-blue koi with a very striking red pattern along the sides of the fish and in the cheeks. The Shusui koi also have no scales over their body except for a row of large scales along each side of the dorsal fin. These koi are very valuable to the history of koi as they were the first scaleless variety of ornamental carp and, over the years, this scale-type has grown to over a hundred different varieties!


The Doitsu scale type originated in Germany in the early 1900s with Mirror Carp who were common carp but who also had a genetic mutation that resulted in certain growth genes not developing properly. This mutation is commonly seen in many types of carp including koi and zebrafish as well as thousands of other species and is visible in the form of a lack of scales or a fully scaleless fish. When the gene mutation was first spotted in Germany, the fisherman encouraged it as it made the fish a lot easier and quicker to prepare for eating. Eventually, many species developed to the point where every fish had the mutation and fish with this gene mutation had been exported all over the world, including koi fish to Japan.


By this point, koi carp were already being bred as ornamental carp by breeders across the country and the Asagi koi was well-established. One such Asagi was bred to one of these new Mirror Carp and within only a few generations, a new variety of koi had been developed that looked like an Asagi but had the scaleless gene mutation to drastically reduced the number of scales on its body. This new fish was originally called a Doitsu Asagi after the Japanese word for Germany ‘Deutsche’, but the variety quickly developed and became less like the Asagi koi. As the Doitsu Asagi became more popular, it was renamed to Shusui which means ‘autumn water’ and refers to the pattern of red colour on a blue background looking like red leaves that have fallen from a tree to land in the river. The term Doitsu meaning scaleless koi stuck, however, and is still used today to refer to scaleless koi.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Clean head

· Amime scale reticulation pattern

· Hi (red) pattern

· Kiwa (edges) of colours


 

Soragoi

Soragoi koi from breeder Hirasawa

Soragoi (SOH-rog-GOY) koi are a single-coloured grey koi often with a reticulation pattern in their scales called fukurin (FOO-koo-REEN) which are very similar to Chagoi koi. Like Chagoi koi, the Soragoi koi are very closely related to the wild carp from which all ornamental koi carp are descended. This means that instead of time being put into selective breeding for colours and patterns, breeders have been selectively breeding for size. As a consequence, most Soragoi koi have the potential to be very large koi and therefore are typically more food-driven than other koi. This is very good for a koi keeper as it means that Soragoi, and Chagoi, koi will often come to greet you at the top of the pond in the hope of being fed and any other fish in the pond will follow them!


As mentioned, one of the main draws of Soragoi koi is their friendliness as the confidence of one fish will impact any other fish in the pond and encourage them all to greet you at the top of the pond so this should be considered when judging a Soragoi koi. The Soragoi that comes straight to you should be preferred over any other Soragoi who hang back or show less personality. This is actually one of many reasons why it is better to view fish in person or to see a video as certain behaviours cannot be seen in just photographs.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Sora (grey) base colour

· Fukurin reticulation pattern


 

T


Tancho Koi

Tancho Kohaku koi from breeder Marudo

Tancho (tan-CHO) koi are a subvariety of koi that refers to a very specific pattern in the hi colouration. Pure Tancho is 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.


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 Sanke and 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.


Things to consider when judging this variety:

· Hi (red) colouration

· Tancho spot

· Quality of base variety



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