The comprehensive guide to koi carp varieties
Have you ever wondered how many types of koi fish there are? This isn’t an easy one to answer as new koi varieties are actively being developed each and every year, but the current count is thirteen classifications of fish, with over 100+ individually named koi varieties; it is amazing to think that all of these varieties have been developed in just over 100 years.
Koi, or Nishikigoi to give them a full title, have a long and rich history. They are the national fish of Japan, and the word koi is another word for ‘affection’, symbolising love and friendship in the country. Koi simply means ‘carp’, and Nishikigoi simply means ‘brocaded (a highly coloured cloth) fish’.
Koi Varieties History
The earliest records of the koi’s existence dates back to 200AD, and it is thought they were kept in China and parts of eastern Asia even prior to this. The first type of koi carp as they are known today though was an Asagi Magoi variety; a completely jet black wild common carp fish and a variety that you wouldn’t covet in your pond. These fish were not bred for beauty though, being originally used in Japan as a food source for the poor rice farmers in the Niigata prefecture. The fish in the farmers irrigation ponds began to cross-breed, producing the first coloured fish; this led to further experimentation and early varieties such as Kohaku being bred for the first time in the mid 1800s, after the cross-breeding of white and red carp. Niigata has since become famed as the hub and fatherland of the koi breeding industry.
Some of the earliest ‘accidental’ spawning produced Magoi with red bellies; from these came a cross from a Magoi and Higoi (otherwise known as Benigoi) producing Hi and Ki Bekkos with black ‘tortoise shell’ markings.
From lighter blue based Asagi came the white based koi. Taki-asagi (White sided) were the type of asagi used to eventually produce the first Kohaku, and then Goshiki, with Koromo thereafter. About 1830, Taki-asagi pairings produced a few white carp with red spots. These were the first coloured carp to be called Kohaku (Red & White) and were the early ancestors of the modern Kohaku which is still the most popular koi kept today.
Kohaku was cross-bred with Goshiki or Asagi to produce the first ‘Sanke’ and also Shiro Bekkos. Ojita City in Niigata was alive with new varieties, and as travellers began to see these beautiful coloured fish for the first time, then koi keeping as a hobby became global.
Niigata ruled the roost for koi development over other countries because the area regularly gets cut off by twenty feet of snow ever year, making it very isolated in Winter. The lack of fresh food meant the original farmers kept the fish inside indoor ponds, however they were not the only farmers throughout the world to notice these accidental ‘coloured’ fish. They were the only ones however to actively breed these to create the koi carp varieties we know today. These artistic, creative people, albeit rice farmers, looked at the new Magoi with red or gold spots and thought “I can breed these to create even more new colourful fish and make lots of money!”.
Did you know that the koi we know and love today wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the descendants of these fast thinking Japanese koi farmers? During World War 2, almost all koi carp were lost in Japan due to a lack of food and orders from the government to forfeit all carp to be eaten. Luckily, the core brood stock were kept safe and hidden in small, secluded Shinto temple ponds; after the War, these were recovered and koi breeding was recommenced.
Some of the most notable varieties such as Asagi and Bekko were also first bred later in the same century, with the quality getting better over several generations of cross-breeding and refinement. It was also during this time that the leather carp strain from central Europe was introduced and cross-bred with the new-found coloured fish. Even today this heritage is used when taking the German word ‘doitsu’, which means ‘scaless’, to describe a fish absent of scales, or with only a row of large scales along the dorsal line. The first variety bred to have a doitsu skin quality was the Shusui variety, which was a scaless mutation of an Asagi.
An interesting fact: The oldest koi carp ever was a fish called “Hanoko”, which was essentially a red carp, that died in July, 1977 at the grand old age of 226. Whether that is indeed a fact, or urban legend remains open to debate, but she was published in a book called “Living Jewels” in 1968, and it makes for a very nice story either way!
They say koi keeping begins and ends with Kohaku, a deceptively simple red and white koi often dismissed by beginners to the hobby.
To an untrained eye, the humble Kohaku can seem relatively boring when compared to brightly coloured varieties such as Yamabuki Ogon, Shusui or Purachina, however once you begin to appreciate the patterns and elegant colouration of high quality Kohaku, hobbyists often revert back to Kohaku because of their simplicity, class and beauty.
Red and white koi first appeared in the early 1800s, when the offspring of a Magoi (a black carp) also had red cheeks, and was again cross-bred with a red fish (Higoi), to produce fish with red stomachs. In the mid 1800s, koi with red on the head, lips (kuchi-beni) and back were also bred, which was the very early refinements of the Kohaku koi variety. The Kohaku code was finally cracked after a red headed female fish was bred with a cherry blossom patterned male, and the resulting offspring now being thought to be the original lineage of all modern Kohaku.
Kohaku are a white based koi with red markings. The white should be ‘snowy’ and not have a yellow tinge, which can reduce the appearance of the red colouration. The red should be uniformed throughout the fish, and Kohaku take on many shades of red which adds to the beauty; however, low quality Kohaku may appear orange and should be avoided. The definition between the white and red markings should be well defined, and is known as ‘kiwa’. A good rule of thumb when looking at the colour balance on a Kohaku is around 65 percent red to white ratio.
One of the Mitchkoi teams favourite characteristic of Kohaku is the number of variations you can get in the pattern. Kohaku with stepped patterns are highly sought after; two-step Kohaku are called Nidan, three-step are called Sandan, four-step are called Yondan. Then you have Inazuma Kohaku, with refers to a lightening strike pattern flowing from head to tail in a zig-zag shape, which are truly spectacular. The final thing to mention when analysing the pattern is that it should possess good balance, and also bear in mind beauty is in the eye of the beholder; many Kohaku do not have a ‘named’ pattern, but are extremely beautiful and just as valuable.
Of course we cannot discuss Kohaku without mentioning Tancho Kohaku. The Tancho spot should be nice and round, as it is meant to depict the Japanese national flag, with a snowy white base and just one circle of red on the forehead. A Kohaku that is not a Tancho but still has a circle or shield shape on the forehead is called a Maruten Kohaku. Kohaku may have red lips, which looks like lipstick; this is called ‘kuchi-beni’ and adds a very endearing character to the fish.
The fins on a Kohaku should be white, with no discolouration or secondary colour. This includes the dorsal fin, tail fin and pectoral fins. As a side note, red on the pelvic fin shouldn’t be taken too seriously, as it is never seen when looking at your fish in the pond.
You will see scaled, doitsu or gin-rin (reflective scales) Kohaku, adding even more variations of what is a stunning and classic variety. The same is true of many varieties in this list, so scalation will not be mentioned further.
Taisho Sanshoku (Sanke)
‘Taisho Sanshoku’ or Sanke is a white koi, with red and black markings. Taisho will be dropped from this guide as it simply refers to the era in Japan that Sanke were first developed and is not used to distinguish different types of Sanke.
Sanke was established a koi breed in the late 1910s. It differs to the Showa koi variety because of the lack of black marking on the head, and that it is a white based fish whereas the Showa is a black based koi. When judging Sanke, it is easiest to imagine it as a good Kohaku first and foremost, judging it on the white colouration and red pattern confirmation; this then only leaves you to assess the black colouration.
The white should be snowy and not have any yellow tint, which is the same criteria for good quality Kohaku. The red hue, again like Kohaku, should be strong and evenly-coloured throughout the body. From a light orange red to a strong blood red is all perfectly acceptable in high class Sanke.
The black should be inky on a mature Sanke; however on young fish, the black may take on a blue tinge where it is still to develop, or come through. This underdeveloped blue/grey colouration is known as ‘sashi’. It is actually preferable on a young fish to have more colour to develop, as this means the koi still has potential to fulfil.
Like a fingerprint, each Sanke is individual with each pattern being unique. Unlike Kohaku, there isn’t named patterns as such. It is important to look for good balance between red, white and black. Some Sanke have lots of black, whereas modern Sanke have very little black indeed. The overlaying of the three colours should also be pleasing on the eye. The one ‘named’ pattern is an Aka Sanke, which has no white showing at all, and is in essence a red fish with black markings overlaying, despite being a white based fish. Again, if the koi looks appealing to you, it is a definite sign to buy it! It is you who will get the enjoyment out of the fish on a warm summers evening with a glass of wine or mug of tea ultimately. If the koi only has a red spot on the head and nowhere else on the body, it is a Tancho Sanke which are highly desirable; also a Maruten Sanke with secondary hi (red) is also sought after. Traditional Sanke may be hard to distinguish from Showa to the untrained eye, because they exhibit a high-level of black.
There is flexibility in the finnage of Sanke; they can either be clean and white like the Kohaku, or exhibit black stripes which can be very beautiful. The black lines in the pectoral fins should be thin and even, and not be confused with ‘motoguru’ which is black extending from the knuckle of a Utsurimono or Showa koi variety.
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Showa Sanshoku (Showa)
Showa Sanshoku, or Showa, are a black based koi with red and white markings. Just like Sanke, we will refer to this variety as Showa only, as Sanshoku refers to the era the koi was first established and is not used to differentiate two-types of Showa.
A Showa is easily confused by beginners with Sanke, especially kindai (modern) Showa which have lots of white with very little black. The traditional Showa boasted lots of black, and breeders worked hard to breed the variety for its black quality; today however, collectors prefer a more balanced fish with red, white and black. Showa was again established in around 1920, noted for the black ‘wrap’ effect around the body.
The earliest Showa looked more like a Hi Utsuri, being dominated by black with small amounts of red and no white. They had striped fins, but not what you would classify as ‘motoguru’. The motoguru fins were developed by cross-breeding Showa with Asagi. In the mid 1960s, Mr. Kobayashi crossed a male Kohaku with a female Showa to produce the Showa variety we see today. It had more red than ever before, with a vibrant white and deep black, complete with a zig-zag pattern on the head.
Again, the white should be snowy and have no tinge of yellow, as this may detract the eye from the strength of red and black. The red should be strong and evenly coloured throughout, as should the black be. Just like Sanke, young Showa may display underdeveloped sumi (black), which is not a bad thing in an immature fish. All of the main criteria of Kohaku and Sanke are applicable to the Showa variety. it is important to remember that all three of these koi varieties sit in the GoSanke variety classification, which is why they share similar traits, characteristics and qualities; GoSanke is the most notable classification and is also known as the ‘big’ three.
The best way to decide on a quality Showa is if the pattern is balanced and pleasing on the eye. Quirky Showa may boast ‘checkerboard’ patterns. A great example of this is some brood-stock we selected during one of our buying trips to Madan Koi Farm in Israel. The fish, a male, had strong colours and a checkerboard effect pattern that caught our eye; maybe not a fish that would tick all of the ‘connoisseur’ koi boxes, but that matters little as the quality was still fantastic and would be chosen nine times out of ten over a fish that met all criteria.
Another pattern characteristic to look out for in the Showa variety is it should have three-colours on its head. The black may take a black ‘v’ shape forking towards the nose with separate black on the nose, or as a lightening stripe dividing the head. This marking is called ‘menware’ or ‘hachiware’ and is desirable, although not essential, in quality Showa.
The Showa can also have a Tancho spot or Maruten head marking, each of both is prized amongst keen hobbyists.
A Showa should have ‘motoguru’; black colour that forks out from the knuckle (base area of the pectoral fins). This is an exclusive trait shared by Utsurimono and Showa alone and looks extremely striking and beautiful.
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Utsurimono is the family name for Shiro Utsuri, Hi Utsuri and Kin-Ki Utsuri. Utsurimono are all two-coloured koi that are black based. Shiro means white, Hi means fire/red and Kin-Ki means yellow.
Utsurimono are a high-impact group, with striking, vivid colouration that catch the eye, and fascinating pattern asymmetry that is as individual as it is breathtaking. There are four key characteristics shared by Utsurimono that distinguish it away from other black based koi carp varieties:
- Black is usually present on the head, in particular the nose. This is a similar pattern to that of a Showa, with either a ‘v’ shape on the forehead or as a lightening stripe ‘menware’ or ‘hachiware’ diving the head.
- Black (sumi) should wrap around the body, from below the lateral line and around the back, often appearing in large, asymmetrical blocks.
- The presence of ‘motoguru’, the black on the joint of the pectoral fins.
- Black can and does appear inside the mouth.
Anyone of these traits can distinguish a Shiro Utsuri from a Bekko for instance, in many cases.
Like Showa, Utsurimono traditional ‘black-based’ fish, but possess only two colours rather than three. The best known in the class is Shiro Utsuri (black with white patterns), followed by Hi Utsuri (black with red patterns). Finally, is Ki Utsuri (black with yellow patterns) which is very rare to see as they are not bred very often. Ki Utsuri are in fact one of the earliest of any known nishikigoi, having been first written about during the Meiji era in the late nineteenth century. The original breeder of this koi was Mr. Minemura in 1925 from the Tetsu Magoi line, and it is he who named the fish ‘Ki Utsuri’. For the purpose of this guide then, we will class the third main utsurimono as Kin-Ki Utsuri, which is a metallic Ki/Hi-Utsuri, and are far more common and popular.
The black should be dense, velvety, and take on a black/blue lustre; this produces eye catching results when combined with a beautiful snowy white overlay, and deep blue sashi that often edges the stronger black colouration. The kiwa (trailing edge of the pattern) should be sharply defined, meaning the white cuts across the scale, however this isn’t essential for high-class Shiro Utsuri. If both the black and the white are strong, you will have a truly spectacular Shiro Utsuri on your hands!
Hi Utsuri, with Hi meaning ‘red’, are a very popular koi variety, with the red and black offering a rich, powerful contrast. Good quality Hi Utsuri are rare, as breeders usually only produce them when the fish doesn’t develop any white when they try to breed Showa, but a Hi Utsuri variety appears after spawning. The black should be just like a Shiro Utsuri, and the red should be strong and consistent, although it may take many different shades, just as a Kohaku can.
Kin-Ki Utsuri are very similar to Hi Utsuri on all points, except to look at the quality of the metallic lustre. Kin-Ki Utsuri may also have white fades on the edge tips of the black pectoral fins, which is perfectly fine.
As a footnote, black on all Utsurimono koi varieties can be highly changeable in young fish, but stabilises fully after around four or five years.
As the name ‘utsuri’ means reflections or change, the pattern should display balance in both the black and corresponding white/red/yellow. If the pattern is pleasing on the eye, you know it has good balance; also we always look out for something ‘unique’ or ‘quirky’ in Utsuri, as it adds real character to the fish. It may not tick all of the boxes as it were, but an interesting head pattern for example can lead to a very beautiful koi. Heavy motoguru on young fish will regress as it matures, so do not worry too much if the finnage looks heavily black on a Shiro Utsuri when choosing immature fish.
Shiro Bekko, or more commonly called Bekko, are often confused with Shiro Utsuri, as they both look like black and white fish. However there is a few key variety identification points that separate the two.
Shiro Bekko are a white based koi variety with very little black on them, thought to have first been developed during the Taisho era, 1912-1926. The black never goes beyond the shoulders and doesn’t ‘wrap’ from the lateral line to the back; the black pattern sits on top of the koi, much like the differentiation between Sanke and Showa mentioned earlier in this koi varieties guide. Imagine a Bekko as a Sanke with the red removed. The black on a Bekko appears to ‘float’ and be more rounded, as well as the point that Bekko shouldn’t have any black inside of the mouth. Bekko means ‘tortoise shell’, and their rarity is because they are a ‘by-product’ of Sanke breeding programmes; after spawning a koi with no red is produced leaving the white and black Shiro Bekko.
The white on Shiro Bekko should be snowy and clean, and the black should be strong and inky, to give a striking contrast. Again, black/blue sashi is acceptable when the black is still to develop through underneath the white. Black marking appear as stripes (tejima) in the pectoral fins, and should not appear as motoguru. This is the same rule of thumb as the difference between Sanke and Showa. Since the 1990s, the black has taken a stronger, impressive finish in the Bekko varieties, perhaps because of the introduction of Showa bloodlines into the Sanke breeding programmes to improve the black quality.
The black pattern of a Shiro Bekko should appear like ‘stepping stones in a Japanese garden’, appearing to float on the back of the Bekko, with no black on the head or below the lateral line. The black may also create a checkerboard pattern across the back, with is considered a sign of excellence in Bekko. A three-dimensional effect is created because of deep scale insertions (sashi over sumi) at the leading edges of black marking on the Shiro Bekko, as well as in the Aka Bekko and Ki Bekko koi varieties.
Shiro Bekko refers to the most common type of Bekko, which is white (shiro) with black overlay. Very rarely we come across Aka Bekko (red), and we have never seen a Ki Bekko (yellow) on our hundreds of buying trips to Japan and Israel over the years. The Aka Bekko looks almost the same as the more common Aka Sanke, and most would not be able to nor need to distinguish between those two koi varieties. If you are a ‘koi geek’ and simply must know however, an Aka Sanke will have a solid line between the red and the white skin, either near the tail, below the lateral line or over the nose; also is may have a pale belly and white fins, all characteristics not shared with Aka Bekko. Kin-Gin-Rin is also an impressive addition to Bekko, enhancing what has always been a rather plain koi.
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Asagi, and Doitsu Asagi (commonly called Shusui) are a blue koi with a vignette or scale reticulation in a darker blue. Shusui was the first ‘doitsu’ or scaless koi to be successfully produced in around 1917 by Mr. Akiyama, after cross-breeding a mirror carp (kagamigoi) from Europe and an Asagi.
Blue-based koi offer a different style and character to a koi collection. Asagi are thought to date back around one hundred and fifty years, and are considered the first recognised variety of Nishikigoi. The doitsu Asagi is called Shusui, which means ‘autumn water’, as the rows of blue scales looks like a stream running down the centre the koi, with two vibrant red Japanese maples during Autumn on either side.
The head should be clean, with a pale white or blue colouration. The only colour on the head should be confined to the cheeks and around the nose, leaving the forehead clean. The shade of the blue isn’t of as much importance, with some Asagi boasting deep slate blue others being a pastel blue, both of which are equally as desirable. The red should be fiery and very bright, with quite a different appearance to that of a GoSanke; the red appears part of the koi rather than appearing over the top of another colour. The red traditionally extends along the length of the lateral line area on the underside of the fish, and the pectoral fins have a red joint; this isn’t called ‘motoguru’ but is known as ‘motoaka’ meaning ‘basic red’.
The quality of an Asagi pattern centre’s around a great vignette, or scale-articulation. Each scale area should be precisely defined, and the vignette is created by a dark triangular ‘wedge’ with paler surrounding lattice. The greater this contrast, the stronger the quality of the vignette appears. Young Asagi may not have a strong vignette as the strength of the contrast in blue is not as good, but this should develop as the koi matures.
The same colouration metrics apply to a quality Shusui, except that the zip linear scalation along the dorsal line should be a deep slate colour. In Hana Shusui (a Shusui with red flanks and very little blue) the red should be fiery and vibrant.
There is no particular guidelines for Shusui when it comes to pattern, other than the zip pattern along the dorsal line should be neat and uniformed. Large extending red cheeks are common and look very beautiful, and this koi variety is very unique, so choose a fish that catches your eye!
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Koromo is the classification for Budo Goromo, Ai Goromo and Sumi Goromo, a white koi with purple markings, characterised by a strong vignette, or scale reticulation.
Koromo are a non-metallic koi with a pattern very similar to that of Kohaku, Sanke or Showa. the vignette may be blue or black in colour, and dictates the darkness of the purple colouration, and in turn whether the variety is an Ai Goromo (indigo), Budo Goromo (purple), or Sumi Goromo (black). A Koromo with purple, grape like markings is called a Budo Goromo, with Budo meaning ‘grape/bunch of grapes’. The variety is renowned for a strong ‘vignette’, ‘mesh in a net’, ‘scale-reticulation’ or ‘anime’; all words used to describe the lattice of colour around the edge of the scales. A close relation to the Goromo koi variety is Goshiki, which also sits in the Koromo classification.
To appreciate the various colours of Koromo, it is easier to look at the parent fish used to breed the koi for particular specific notes on colour appreciation. For example, an Ai Goromo is produced by cross-breeding a Kohaku and an Asagi. The colour vignette of an Asagi can be appreciated, and the red underlay and white base of the Kohaku can be appreciated separately. But in the interest of being thorough, we will look at colour appreciation for each of the Koromo classifications:
Young Ai Goromo may appear as Kohaku, as the blue scale reticulation that defines this koi variety may not be fully formed, or strong enough as a small size. The white should be crisp, snowy and white, with bold red markings and a light blue vignette etching. As this has the lightest vignette in the Koromo classification, the blue should be the lightest, allowing the underlaying red to be strong; this fish will look indigo in colour. A light blue-tinted sashi is acceptable.
Budo Goromo are a rare Asagi/Kohaku offspring that develop dark purple markings covering small groups of scales like a ‘bunch of grapes’. The skin should be pure white, and the purple can vary from light to extremely dark, with some examples looking almost like a Sumi Goromo variety.
The robing in a Sumi Goromo is black rather than blue, allowing very little of the underlaying Kohaku red pattern to show through. The contrast between the snowy white base and deep, black pattern is particularly stunning, however seeing a great example of a Sumi Goromo is rare, as they can look quite ‘gloomy’ and not as interesting as Budo and Ai Goromo varieties.
The word Koromo means ‘robed’ or ‘veiled’ and refers to the vignette of these koi. If you imagine that a Budo Goromo is the same as a Kohaku, with a white base and red markings, but with deep purple ‘robing’ over a portion of the scale, you may understand where the ‘veiled’ meaning comes from. The outer third of the scale contains the darker colour, gradually getting lighter towards the edge of the scale. A unique pattern, or a named stepped/inazuma/tancho pattern are all completely acceptable in Koromo; look at the pattern from a Kohaku standpoint.
Goshiki are a five-coloured koi that offer immense beauty. A white based fish that have black/blue netted articulation, overlaid by Kohaku style red patterns.
The word ‘goshiki’ simply means ‘five colours’, however to distinguish all five colours on one fish is not always possible. It was developed from cross-breeding Aka Sanke, or Aka Bekko (both varieties are a red fish with black markings) and Asagi, giving it red, black and white from the Sanke and grey and blue from the Asagi. In recent years, it has been produced only by breeding Sanke and Asagi varieties. Goshiki is one of our most popular variety and a favourite amongst the team here at Mitchkoi, as well as thousands of our customers. It is part of the Koromo classification in the United Kingdom. Previously they were part of the Kawarigoi family; ‘kawari’ translates to ‘something strange’.
The base should be light, but will appear dark because of the reticulation on each scale. Each scale should be clearly defined by the white outline on the scales. The red is the most obvious feature of a Goshiki, and should be strong, clearly defined and almost look to ‘float’ on top of the dark/light base. The vignette is formed by the brilliant white scales having black covering them, leaving only a white outline. The red colour should have no reticulation at all.
A Goshiki may have stepped patterns like a Kohaku that are very sought after. From time to time, you may see a Tancho Goshiki, which have a beautiful Tancho head marking; however do note, these are extremely rare. The red pattern should give a three-dimensional effect, which relates to the ‘floating’ mentioned earlier. This variety is so unusual that each one has a dramatically different appearance and there are some stunning examples to be seen.
Kawarigoi is a ‘catch all’ term used for any other variety that doesn’t have enough varieties or variations to have its own judging classification. Kawari means something strange or with peculiar characteristics. Here we go…
Since lots of established varieties sit under the classification Kawarigoi, it is easier to break down Kawarigoi into four groups of koi as follows:
1: Karasugoi – Most members of this group are extensively black, with some being exclusively black. Fully-scale varieties are named according to the position of any white skin, whereas all doitsu Karasugoi with white patterns are called Kumonryu, also known as ‘Dragon Fish’ as the pattern can change with the seasons.
- Matsukawabake is a black and white patterned, fully-scaled koi that is often confused with Kumonryu, because it looks almost the same (other than one is doitsu) and the fact both can have white and black areas that reverse over time, or even with the seasons.
- Kumonryu is a black and white patterned doitsu koi
- Beni Kumonryu is a Kumonryu where the white areas are largely replaced with red (beni)
- AN OTHER: Suminagashi, Hajiro, Hagashiro, Yotushiro are all black, fully scaled koi varieties with white tails and pectoral fin tips, with variations of white on the head. Please note: we have never seen any of these AN OTHER koi carp varieties so they will not be covered further in this guide due to their extreme rarity.
2: Single-Coloured Koi (Kawarimono) – Members of this group may demonstrate strong scale-reticulation or vignette, and other do not. An example of a fully reticulated koi (Matsubagoi) is a Aka Matsuba (red Matsuba).
- Kigoi is a yellow non-reticulated koi.
- Benigoi/Higoi is a red non-reticulated koi that occasionally has white fin tips.
- Sorigoi is a pale grey non-reticulated koi that may have a delicate vignette giving a great fishnet effect.
- Chagoi is a brown non-reticulated koi, in many shades from light tea brown to chocolate, where again a vignette may be seen.
3: Crossbred Koi – This group will not be discovered in further details as the possibilities are endless as breeders play around with different spawning options. It is included only to give you an example of the possibility of hundreds of koi fish varieties as well as out of respect to trial and error, which is why many varieties we love today even exist!
- Showa – Shusui
- Utsuri – Chagoi
- Ochiba Shigure is actually a well known cross-breed between a Sorigoi and Chagoi. It is a brown and grey koi.
- The list can go on!
4: Oddballs – These again are too unusual to carry further comment.
- Kage Utsuri are Utsurimono with shadowy, translucent white.
- Gotenzakura are a Kohaku with areas of red scales that are very small, giving a bunch of grapes appearance.
5: Not part of the four groups from above but more of a footnote. Some varieties are not classified even into Kawarigoi. This will detail the show classifications in the United Kingdom for three more known varieties.
- Goshiki is in the Koromo classification.
- Kage Showa is in the Showa classification.
- Kanoko Asagi is in the Asagi/Shusui variety classification.
Karasu means ‘crow’ and relates t the inky-black colour of these koi, thought to originate from the Asagi Magoi line.
Although Karasugoi is a variety within itself, also known as a ‘crow fish’, being a scaled black fish with white underbelly and related to the Asagi with a clean, pale white head, it also describes this group of black fish.
This variety is always doitsu, with rows of scales if any running along the dorsal line and/or lateral line. The original pattern of Kumonryu looked like Japanese dragon paintings, because of the wavy white and black appearing on the flanks of the variety; this is where the name ‘dragon fish’ originated from. Any Karasugoi that is doitsu is called a Kumonryu. Kumonryu are thought to originate from the Matsukawabake, a black scaled fish that looks the same as a Karasugoi. A beautiful variation to a Kumonryu is a Beni Kumonryu; this variety replaces most of the white from a Kumonryu with a rich, deep red colouration that is very eye-catching.
As the Kawarigoi family of koi varieties is so broad, this guide cannot go into unique detail for the colour criteria for each and every fish. However, as with any varieties, the colours should be strong and uniformed.
Again, due to the large number of koi varieties in Kawarigoi, individual pattern criteria is not going to be delved into; we would say though that if one of these koi catches your eye, then it is always a great sign that it is of a good quality and you will get individual gratification out of owning it, regardless of what the ‘rule’ book says.
Chagoi are perhaps the most notable in the Kawarimono classification. These friendly, single-coloured, non-metallic koi are notorious for growing extremely fast; this is maybe because they have a closer lineage to the wild carp with less mutations. ‘Cha’ means brown, or tea coloured, and ‘goi’ means fish, so the simple translation is ‘brown fish’, although they can be anything from a chocolate colour, to a light tea brown or even have a green tinge to the colouration. They are a non-metallic variety and some of the biggest koi ever known have been Chagoi; they can also be easily tamed and are an endearing variety to have in your pond.
There are the three spellings of this koi, of which we choose ‘Sorigoi’; a delicate grey fish with a fine, dark vignette or fukurin affect around each scale, giving the appearance of a fish-net scale pattern. Like Chagoi, high definition of scale reticulation is a vital appreciation point in Kawarimono koi varieties.
As Kawarimono only have colour, the only thing to focus on is the tonality and evenness of the colouration. You cannot focus on a particular shade as there are many, from light to dark.
Only the evenness of the scaling (kokenami) and quality of the vignette is important in mono-coloured varieties.
Appreciation of Kawarigoi and Kawarimono is perhaps more down to personal preference than in other groups such as GoSanke. The varieties have such a dramatic impact, character and charm; perhaps there is a Kawarigoi for every koi lover to add a little sparkle to a quiet summer evening by the pond.
Kage means ‘shadowing’ and refers to the appearance of black in a Kage Showa and white in a Kage Shiro Utsuri.
Kage isn’t a variety but rather an ‘effect’ where the white skin has an unusual dark overlay. It gives a beautiful ‘shadowy’ or ‘translucent’ quality to the black in a Showa and on the white of a Shiro Utsuri. Ideally the shadowing should be defined over each individual scale area.
This classification contains single-coloured metallic koi varieties known collectively as Ogon, meaning ‘golden’. Matsuba Ogon have a reticulated or vignette pattern, but are still in the Hikarimuji classification.
The single-coloured Hikarimuji compromises of three groups of koi with a metallic finish. The group is known collectively as Ogon, bred for the first time in the 1940s by Mr. Aoki and his family from a line of originally wild carp found to have golden stripes when captured years earlier. Through selective breeding of koi with the most metallic lustre, eventually the Ogon we know today were created. These basic Ogon have since been crossbred with almost every other variety to create a range of spectacular metallic koi seen today. Ogon are thought to be an easy to breed koi variety, but this is not true and high-quality specimens especially in larger sizes are highly sought after.
Varieties in Hikarimuji are: Orenji Ogon, Yamabuki Ogon, Purachina, Gin Matsuba, Kin Matsuba, Kinporai, Kin Hi Matsuba
As Ogon can be anything from vibrant white (Purachina), strong orange (Orenji) to deep yellow (Yamabuki), the colouration should always be bright, clean and consistent. The head should be an important feature, with no spots or stains and look almost ‘bald’. The metallic lustre should be strong and well defined, being almost solid looking.
As with Chagoi and Sorigoi, only the fukurin of the scales can really be judged in Ogon, and they are mono koi fish varieties. This layering effect is created by the change in pigmentation and lustre between the layers, and the light ambience by the reflecting scales. The quality of the vignette in a Matsuba is achieved to create a ‘pinecone’ effect by a discrete, dark wedge around each scale.
Metallic koi that have more than one colour fall into this classification. Platinum Ogon crossed with all varieties excluding Utsurimono and Showa, giving varieties such as Gin Bekko and Kujaku, and then a group collectively known as Hariwake.
In this metallic, non-mono coloured variety classification, you will find well-known varieties such as Kikokuryu, Hariwake, Kikusui, Yamatonishiki and Kujaku. It is another catch all class just as Kawarigoi is, serving a multitude of koi varieties, all derived from cross-breeding metallic koi and other varieties. A Yamatonishiki is a metallic Sanke for instance, and a Kikusui is a metallic Kohaku. The Kikokuryu is a metallic equivalent of a Kumonryu, and the name means Ki (light) – Koku (black) – Ryu (Dragon), hence the koi is a shining black dragon. As such, individual pattern and colour notes are not required, as the criteria is the same other than the metallic lustre being shiny and strong. Moyo means more than one colour, and well known varieties such as Kujaku (peacock) only appeared in the 1960s, making it quite a new classification.
Just as Kage is a feature of a variety, rather than a koi variety within itself, so is Kin-Gin-Rin or Gin-Rin, a word used to describe the ‘glittering’ appearance of reflective scales found on many koi varieties.
A chemical deposit in the scales of the koi make them ‘sparkle’, which was first discovered in the late 1920s by Mr. Hochino, who called it ‘gingoke’. A koi with shiny golden scales is called ‘kin-rin’ and only silver shiny scales is called gin-rin. It really comes into its own when in sunshine, when the sparkling really pops out. It should be considered an ‘add-on’ feature in appreciation, after looking at the basic points of a fish.
Hikari Utsuri is a metallic equivalent of Showa and Utsurimono giving varieties such as Kin Showa, Gin Showa, Kin Ki Utsuri and Gin Shiro.
This variety needs o further information other than they are the result of cross-breeding between Ogon and Utsurimono or Showa that doesn’t fall into the Hikarimono classification, and any criteria of Showa koi varieties or Utsurimono varieties applies, but with addition of a rich metallic lustre.
Koi Varieties Lineage Guidance
Note: This isn’t every koi listed, as some are either self-explanatory from the guidance above or the lineage hasn’t been confirmed.
Asagi: First bred in the early 1800s by two parent Asagi Magoi varieties.
Ki Bekko: First bred in the mid-1800s by a Magoi and Higoi.
Kohaku: First bred in 1889 by a white female with a red head and a white male with a cherry-blossom pattern.
Sanke: First-bred in the late 1800s by a Kohaku and a Shiro Bekko
Shusui: First-bred in 1910 by a Asagi and a Doitsu mirror carp.
Ki Utsuri: First-bred in 1921 by a Ki Bekko and an Asagi Magoi.
Shiro Utsuri: First-bred in 1925 between a Magoi and an unknown other variety.
Showa: First-bred in 1926 between a Hi Utsuri and a Kohaku.
Yamabuki Ogon: First-bred in 1957 between a Ki-goi and a light-coloured Ogon.
Doitsu Kujaku: First-bred in 1960 between a Hariwake and a Shusui.
Purachina: First-bred in 1963 between a Ki-Goi and a Ogon.
Beni Kumonryu: First-bred in 1980 between a Kumonryu and a Doitsu Kohaku.
Kikokuryu: First-bred in 1993 between a Kumonryu and a Kikusui.
This guide was aimed to provide a reference point, incorporating both specific notes and general guidance, including details of all of the main koi carp classifications. The key point to remember though is if a koi has an ‘impact’ on you, meaning it really catches your eye, regardless of the variety, it should be considered ‘good quality’. This is because despite judging criteria and thousands of hobbyists all having an individual opinion, it is ultimately you who will get the enjoyment out of a fish. If it is a koi that ‘ticks’ all of the boxes and you don’t like it, it is futile to add it to your collection. Koi keeping is all about passion about the fish we love, and this is true when making a selection. A fish with character and charm will always be the one you point out to and gain the most enjoyment from; please bear this simple ideal in mind when looking at any koi throughout your koi keeping career.
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