One of the earliest varieties in the history of Nishikigoi going back some 160 years. The Asagi was developed from Asagi Magoi, one of the three varieties of black carp. The deep blue scales with pale edgings combined with red sides, cheeks and fin joints produce a distinctive and easily recognised Koi with a restrained beauty.
There are said to be three types of Asagi named according to their shade of blue.
• The Konjo Asagi, the darkest blue variety and least valued.
• The Narumi Asagi, named after the Narumi district of Japan renowned for its tie-dyed fabrics. A lighter blue, with its deep blue centre and pale outer edging to each scale is the most typical Asagi.
• The third variety is the Mizu Asagi which is the palest, almost grey. In practice all three are generally just known as Asagi. As it is difficult to know where one variety ends and another begins this is perhaps the safest course.
The main features to look for are a clear pale blue head without underlying shading or staining. Evenness of scaling is also vital with each scale being clearly defined with its darker blue centre-colour contrasted by paler outer edge to produce a clear reticulated pattern from head to tail. The Hi marking should be a vivid red running along the sides of the Koi but not above the lateral line. There should be no Hi on the back. The Hi continues through the gill plates and onto the cheeks and jaw preferably in a symmetrical pattern. The base of the fins, especially the pectorals, should also be marked with Hi. Hi on this variety is often orange in colour which is less desirable as it is the vivid red contrasting with the more subdued blue scaling which provides one of the main attractions of this Koi. The underside of the abdomen should be white.
Common faults in this variety are head staining, poor brownish Hi colour, black speckling to the body and misplaced or damaged scaling, all of which seriously downgrade the Koi. However, perhaps the biggest problem is the tendency for the body colour to darken particularly as the Koi grows.
Whilst it is possible to acquire young well-scaled specimens of good blue colour, as they grow the blue generally darkens to grey and individual scale definition is lost. This makes good large specimens retaining colour and definition a rarity in this country. In Japan they do however seem to be able to maintain the blue colour and clear reticulation to maturity. I have yet to hear a satisfactory explanation for this phenomenon although differences in water chemistry and cooler temperature are usually put forward.
Originally produced by an Asagi Sanke and mirror carp cross, the Shusui is a Doitsu Asagi. The main characteristic of this variety is the line of deep blue scales along the dorsal ridge contrasting with a scaleless pale blue body and Hi markings as found in Asagi. As with all Doitsu Koi, neat well placed scaling is essential. A single row of large deep blue scales starting at the back of the head dividing into a row either side of the dorsal fin before continuing to the base of the tail is the ideal. Misplaced or rogue scales are often found in this variety which do detract and downgrade a Koi. The head, just as with Asagi should be pale and clear without speckling or staining. The pale sky blue of the body of Shusui ought to be clear and of even colour to off-set the deep blue scaling which makes this variety unmistakable.
The Hi markings should be bright and vivid running along the body sides, generally below the lateral line into the sides of the head and cheeks in the same manner as found on Asagi. The base of the pectoral fins should also show this bright red. Shusui with Hi markings between lateral line and dorsal are called Hana Shusui, meaning flowery. Those whose Hi extends all over the back are not surprisingly called Hi Shusui. When this variety is small it is generally very pretty and striking and often appeals to newcomers.
However, a word of caution, if darkening with age is a problem with Asagi, then it is doubly so with Shusui. Very attractive small specimens can change dramatically to become an all-over grey blue colour which, as well as losing their beauty, also lose all value. This makes large specimens which have held their youthful colour a rarity. Perhaps the best advice when considering this variety is to choose those of the Hana or Hi type, those having larger areas of red which are less subject to change. Making any change in the blue body colour much less noticeable. However, if it is the blue colour which really attracts, then you pays your money and takes your choice!
Another of the two colour varieties, the Bekko has sumi markings on white, red or yellow skin; the vast majority being Shiro Bekko, a white Koi with black markings.
If Shiro Utsuri can be thought of as a Showa without any red, then the Shiro Bekko can be thought of in the same way as a Sanke without any red. Indeed this variety does come from Sanke lineage.
Although sometimes mistaken for Shiro Utsuri there should be no great difficulty in differentiating between the two. The sumi markings of Bekko should be small, with the possible exception of a bold shoulder marking, and lie on the back of the Koi not extending below the lateral line. Unlike the "wrapping" markings of Utsuri. The sumi should of course be a deep jet black with clear well defined edges with the possible exception of the front edges which may be blurred to show good depth of colour. To offset these sumi markings should be snow white skin, a highly prized characteristic in this variety. It is the simplicity of pattern which gives the Shiro Bekko its clean, neat and delicate look. Speckling of the sumi of course detracts from this effect as does too many sumi markings. Far better to have fewer well placed markings. Evenness of body colour is another requirement in the search for quality in this variety.
The head should be pure white, although many specimens tend towards a yellowish hue. This shows a lack of quality as in the best specimens there is no difference between the head and body colour. There should generally be no sumi marking to the head, another distinguishing feature between the Bekko and Utsuri. The odd sumi spot however is acceptable as long as it is not dominant and does not detract from the overall balance. Head blemishes and staining are a serious fault in this variety and are unfortunately all too common.
The fins should be white with the pectoral fins showing a few sumi stripes just as with Sanke. This being a further distinguishing feature between Bekko and Utsuri, the latter having motoguro (black joints). Sumi stripes sometimes extend into the tail and dorsal but they should not dominate as the finnage of this variety should have a delicate translucent quality.
There are two other colour versions of Bekko, the red-bodied Aka Bekko and the yellow-bodied Ki Bekko. Both varieties are rarely seen with good specimens being highly prized.
Aka Bekko, when seen, often have an uneven body colour and also are said to tend to fade as they grow older.
Ki Bekko, in addition to these problems, also tend to speckle with their sumi.
Doitsu Bekko are also available, here a neat even row of scaling along the dorsal ridge is important as any faults are very easily seen. Doitsu Bekko can be very pretty particularly when small but seem to lack elegance when grown large.
In conclusion, it is perhaps the simple elegance of this variety which provides a contrast to their more flamboyant cousins which makes the Bekko aa welcome addition to any Koi collection.
If any one class of Nishikigoi could truly be said to be a "living jewel", then it must surely be the Kinginrin varieties with their shimmering gold (kin) and silver (gin) scales. The overlaying of gold on the hi and silver onto white or sumi body colour produces a dazzling effect to which newcomers to the hobby are particularly drawn. The purists though would point out that these shiny scales can blur the pattern edges. Although great strides have been made in recent years with some truly stunning Kinginrin Koi with clear well defined patterns being produced, Kinginrin, usually shortened to just Ginrin in speech, are today seen in most varieties.
The big three, Kohaku, Sanke and Showa, predominate, however, the black and white of Utsuri and Bekko are well worth seeking as are the
metallic varieties on which the glittering scales overlaid on the shiny metallic base, produce another dimension in Nishikigoi.
Kinginrin scaling appears in two basic forms, those which appear in relief on top of the scales and those which appear set under the scales.The first type is the Pearl Ginrin also known as Tsubo-gin or Tama-gin on which the shiny centre of each scale stands out in relief giving the appearance of individual pearls laid on the body. Pearl scales are also often interspersed with the "flatter" types making good examples a rarity. The other drawback with this type of Ginrin is the tendency to become dull as the Koi grows, but they can be most striking when small.
The second type occurs in three forms. The first being Betagin, here the whole surface of the scale is covered with a sparkling iridescence giving almost a Mother-of-Pearl effect. Considered to be the finest Ginrin this type often suffers from uneven and scattered placement. The best examples are those on which the scaling covers the back and sides of the Koi completely. Diamond Ginrin also known as Hiroshima Ginrin after the area in which it was first found in 1969, as the name suggests, here the scales sparkle like the gemstone and have the appearance of cracked ice radiating outwards from the base of each scale. With the back and sides being neatly and evenly covered in Diamond scales a Koi of startling brilliance is achieved. This type is often considered coarse by the Japanese whose tastes are perhaps for a more subtle elegance.The last type is Kado-gin meaning edged, also known as Sudar-gin. Here only the scale edgings are sparkling, often making the scales look pointed, this is the least favoured type of Ginrin as it produces an uneven effect.
Whilst identifying the various types is all very well in theory, in practice however, it is often difficult to accurately distinguish between the types of Ginrin, with the possible exception of the Pearl type. As Ginrin scaling can often be a combination of more than one type on a single Koi, the safest option is not to be too clever, hedge your bets, just call them Ginrin. In appreciating Ginrin varieties, good even shiny scaling on the back and extending down the sides is a major factor. However, one must not overlook that the Koi should also have all the qualities looked for in its no- Ginrin cousins in terms of shape, skin quality and the pattern of the particular variety. Indeed, it has long been a topic of discussion amongst judges when assessing Ginrin classes as to the priority between Ginrin scaling and the general requirements of the variety in question. Whilst good Ginrin scaling is a prime requirement, this must not be at the expense of a poor pattern, conversely a good general pattern will not make up for poor and patchy Ginrin. The ideal would be the best of both worlds in terms of sparkling Ginrin scaling, overlaying onto a correct pattern, an ideal seldom achieved and as with most things compromise has to be the order of the day.
Common faults among Ginrin are lack of all-over shiny scaling, particularly along the dorsal ridge from the back of the head to the front of the dorsal - this less fleshy area is often devoid of Ginrin scales. Scattered scales are another fault all too often seen as are koi with just isolated Ginrin scales randomly positioned. A good general rule of thumb here being if you can easily count the number of Ginrin scales the Koi cannot be considered true Ginrin. With the availability today of Ginrin in an ever increasing number of varieties. most ponds will benefit from their addition. but don't overdo it with these "living jewels" in order to keep a balance to your collection.
In Japan Kohaku are held in much higher esteem than any other variety and are consequently subjected to very searching scrutiny with outstanding specimens being particularly highly prized. In the assessment of quality of Kohaku, it is very easy to be influenced purely by the pattern. This is mistake number one, much more important in the initial assessment is the shape and skin quality of the koi.
A Kohaku, or indeed any koi with a wonderful pattern, without the correct body and fine skin quality is of little value. Only when we are convinced of these first two factors should we consider patterns. In Japan many of the highly prized Kohaku used for breeding do not necessarily have outstanding patterns, but do have correct shape and excellent skin quality. Quite simply, patterns cannot be reproduced, even from the best lineage, yet correct shape and skin quality are much more likely to be reproduced. In considering body shape, look down directly from above for well rounded sides – the classic "cigar" shape. Rugby balls and straight sides should be avoided, as should pointed heads. Another important factor is that both sides should be symmetrical. Any unevenness between the two sides will be due to either an inborn deformity, which will not correct, or some potential internal problem – both of which should be avoided. The main reason for female koi being more highly prized than their slimmer male counterparts is because, particularly when large, they take on a much more rounded and pleasing shape.
Judging shape is of course very much easier with large koi but is equally important with smaller koi. Although there can be no guarantee that good shape will be maintained, starting from the correct position must surely help. Bad body shapes seldom improve with the possible exception of newly imported koi which have often been starved prior to shipping, giving the impression of a large head and slim body. With the correct care these may well improve. In these cases you can only use your experience and trust your judgment. This of course applies to all koi and not just Kohaku. The next aspect – skin quality – is probably the hardest to define. The Hi red on Kohaku should be uniform in colour so that individual scaling is not easily seen and with clear well defined edges against the white background. This is known as kiwa. Good kiwa is yet another aspect in the assessment of quality in Kohaku. The only exception being to the front edge of the Hi marking, which may be blurred. This is considered proof of good depth of Hi and is due to white scales overlaying the red.
Pattern is often the thing which attracts to a particular Kohaku but as stated previously, not necessarily the most important characteristic. Good balance is the key to good pattern. Balance being the overall effect of the red laid over the white. Neither side of the koi or the back or front should dominate.The head pattern with Hi between but not touching the eyes and forming a U shape which finishes halfway between the eyes and mouth is considered to be the classic. However, today many koi with unique head patterns breaking this "rule" are finding favour. These can make a koi look very distinctive.
Too little Hi on the head giving a bald effect, Bozu, is disliked as is Hi covering the whole head, Menkaburi, – both are unrefined.
Kuchibeni or lipstick patterns often find favour in this country, although not particularly liked in Japan. They can be useful in improving the head pattern when the main head Hi stops somewhat short. Maruten head patterns are a single rounded spot as in a Tancho.
With regard to body pattern, large markings, Omoyo, are to be preferred to small markings, Komoyo. On small koi small markings often look attractive, but as the koi grows these will produce a broken or spattered effect which lacks the imposing look we are seeking. On the other hand, large markings on the shoulder region help achieve this effect. Single unbroken Hi patterns, Ippo,n are of little value with the exception of the Inazuma or lightning patterns, which, although continuous, are varied enough to produce a pleasing overall effect. The placing of the Hi markings is important in achieving overall balance. Koi with markings predominantly at the front are unbalanced, as are those with large markings towards the rear as these give a heavy appearance. The ideal would perhaps be a koi whose largest markings are on the head and shoulders, with patterns reducing in size towards the tail.
The wrapping of Hi markings that is to say those which extend below the lateral line, are now favoured. They help to produce an imposing look on large Kohaku.
One-sided patterns, Katamoyo, are disliked as they are obviously unbalanced. Stepped patterns, Danmoyo, either 2 step (Niddan) 3 step (Sandan) or 4 step (Yondan) are the classic and traditional patterns. These days many attractive Kohaku do not fall into any of these recognised patterns, however, do not be put off by this as long as the pattern has good overall balance. Hi which runs into the fins, especially the tail, is considered a fault. The last Hi marking should step to reveal a small area of white before the tail known as Ojime. Koi with no Ojime give a heavy impression. Koi with no Hi towards the tail producing a large area of white called Bongiri are unrefined.
Windows in the Hi markings are a serious fault as the markings should be uniform. Hi staining on the dorsal is a common fault and shows a lack of qualiity. The fins should be completely white, to complement the red of the body pattern. Any black markings in the finnage are a serious defect. Small black markings on the body, called shimmies, are sometimes seen and do detract from the overall effect. In striving to produce the ideal Kohaku, a near impossible task, it should be remembered that any minor defects can be forgiven if the overall appearance in terms of quality and balance is achieved. As with the assessment of all koi, one should try to look for the good points first and any defects second.
Easier said than done, as it is perhaps always easier to criticise than praise.
Koromo, which means "robed" were originally developed by crossing a male Kohaku with a female Asagi to produce a Koi with a Kohaku-type hi pattern overlaid with the scaling of Asagi. The main variety in the group is the Aigoromo [see left photo] (Ai meaning blue) on which the scales of the hi markings are edged with a deep indigo blue producing a clear reticulated pattern. The final requirement of the Aigoromo is a good Kohaku pattern with deep hi markings on snow white skin, together with all the other attributes which make for good Kohaku. The head pattern should be as a normal Kohaku, with no overlaid pattern. The remaining hi markings should all have individual scales clearly defined by their blue edging when the Koi is finished. These edged scales should not encroach onto the white skin.
The pattern of this variety does not fully develop until maturity, with young specimens not showing the clear reticulated pattern. As the pattern grows more intense as the Koi grows, it is perhaps wise to seek those which show the minimum of Koromo marking when small in the hope that these will develop as the Koi grows to produce the impressive elegance which in time is true Aigoromo. Predicting how a pattern will develop is an interesting, albeit difficult, exercise which can lead to disappointments. Poorer quality Aigoromo lack the clear definition required producing a fuzzy and muddy effect.
Sumi-goromo is the second of the Koromo group – as the name suggests the pattern here is overlaid with sumi, producing a much darker overall effect. In this variety sumi also appears on the head hi which is a useful reference point in distinguishing between Aigoromo and Sumi-goromo.The basic Kohaku body pattern is still a requirement of Sumi-goromo. As the scales are overlaid with sumi, and not just edged, the neatness and clarity of Aigoromo is lacking. However, the basic underlying hi pattern should still be apparent. This variety is unfortunately prone to irregularities of pattern which show as isolated dark patches on the hi and do detract from the overall effect.
Budo-goromo, although rare, are sometimes seen. Budo means "grape" and gives a clue to the colour and shape of the pattern A very light and delicate impression should be given by the pattern with individual hi scales appearing as grapes on a bunch, overlaid and edged with purple. Contrast this with snow white skin and a truly elegant Koi is the result. Head markings are not necessary in this variety. Fins, as with the previous varieties, should be clear and free from all colour.
Koromo Sanke, as the name suggests, is a combination of Sanke and Aigoromo varieties with the Hi of the Sanke being overlaid in the normal Koromo manner. The usual sumi markings expected of Sanke are also present. There should be no marking on the white areas as this would change the variety to Goshiki.
Koromo Showa, likewise, is a Showa Koromo cross. A basic Showa pattern on which the Hi is overlaid with Koromo markings. Good specimens of these last two varieties are rarely seen and when available often lack the clearly refined reticulated pattern essential to form good Koromo and produce a rather complicated and messy pattern.
Goshiki [see right photo] (this used to be in the Kawarimono class but has recently been put into the Koromo class), originally an Asagi x Sanke cross, from which the name meaning five colours was derived, these being the white, red & black of Sanke and the light and dark blue of Asagi. Having said that one would be hard pressed to identify all these colours on most Goshiki.The combination of colours tends to produce a purplish or grey appearance. Goshiki are said to look better in warm water as their colours darken in cold water. They also often lack definition in the patterning and although they can be pretty when small – good large specimens with well developed patterns are rare.
Taisho Sanke - the second of the "big three" varieties generally referred to simply as Sanke which literally means tri colour. A white-backed Koi with red and black markings, this variety can be considered as a Kohaku with the addition of black or sumi markings. This being the case, all the important features we look for in Kohaku apply equally to Sanke. Body shape and skin quality are of prime importance, fine white skin being particularly valued as this is even harder to find than on Kohaku. The Hi should be uniform in colour and form an interesting well-balanced pattern. Add to this several well placed sumi markings and we have the basis of a good Sanke. The head markings should run down between the eyes finishing around the nostril area. Menkaburi and Bozu patterns are undesirable.
Unique head patterns are, today, finding favour just as with Kohaku. In assessing Sanke the old question "without the sumi would the Koi make a good Kohaku?" is still a valid consideration. With regard to Sumi markings, sumi on white skin is called Tsubo Sumi and is preferred to sumi on red skin which is called Kasane Sumi. When fully developed sumi should be a deep dense black having a lacquered appearance, called Urishi and have sharply defined edges. There should be no sumi on the head or below the lateral line. A large sumi marking on the shoulder helps create an imposing look, particularly if this falls on white skin. Although this is perhaps considered less important with the emergence of the so-called modem Sanke which have a minimal amount of sumi, sometimes only one or two markings. The placement of the sumi is important and should give the appearance of definite marking, achieving balance on the Koi and not just random black spots. Many small sumi markings tend to produce a spattered effect lacking refinement, and sumi markings which are too large give a heavy dominant appearance. As with all patterned Koi, balance is the key. Fewer well placed sumi markings are generally preferred to a large number which tend to lack elegance. The sumi of Sanke is variable and can either become more intense or even fade altogether as the Koi grows.
In young Sanke it is worthwhile looking for underlying sumi which appears as grey markings under the skin which have not yet fully developed. This later developing sumi is called Ato which once fully developed is said to be more stable. Fully developed sumi on your Koi may well not last and often breaks up. Whilst they may appear very attractive at the time, such Koi may well disappoint in the long term.The fins of Sanke should have a few sumi stripes but too many gives a heavy impression. Sanke with pure white fins have generally come from Kohaku lineage.Those with stripes are reputed to have more stable body sumi. There should be no solid sumi at the base of pectorals nor should there be any Hi staining of the fins.Sanke with a continuous Hi marking from head to tail are Aka Sanke which simply means red. They often grow very large but are generally regarded as lacking elegance due to the absence of Tsubo Sumi. Sanke with a separate head spot are Maruten just as with Kohaku.
Sanke are also produced as Doitsu Koi which should have a neat row of large scales along the dorsal ridge. Misplaced scales often appear on the body and are considered as a fault. Doitsu Sanke appear very pretty when small but are not as highly regarded as scaled versions when large. Other types of Sanke include Kanoku which are Sanke on which the Hi is dappled. Koromo Sanke, the Hi of which has a reticulated sumi pattern on the individual scales. Tancho Sanke, the only Hi being the round head spot. Metallic Sanke are called Yamatonishiki, good specimens being very rare as the metallic lustre tends to make the Hi appear orange and the sumi silvery grey. Kinginrin Sanke with their shimmering scaling are also very popular, but that's a subject for another time.
The concluding thought to apply to Sanke of all types, should be the striving for complete harmony of the three colours.
Showa – the third of the Go-Sanke varieties and the last one to be developed. This variety was produced by Mr. Hoshino in the Takezaua district in Niigata in 1927 by crossing a Kohaku with a Ki Utsuri. Further development, particularly by a Mr. Kobakyashi, to improve the Hi colour lead to the Showa as we know it today being produced in the early 1960's. In terms of breeding true to type, this is the least reliable of the big three varieties, making good quality Showas uncommon. It is estimated that only about 20% of the offspring of Showa will in fact be Showa. Add to this, the fact that they are also unpredictable in the changes which take place during their growth and one can begin to understand why good Showa are rare.
It goes without saying that good body shape and skin quality are a prerequisite in the search for quality in this variety. Showa are generally referred to as a black Koi with red & white markings, as opposed to Sanke which are white fish with red & black markings. It is, however, hard to think of many of today's Showa in these terms due to the black not being as much in evidence as in earlier times, and many Showa having large areas of white. However, it is generally not difficult distinguish between Showa and Sanke, but more of this later.
The Hi pattern is basically that of Kohaku except that the head marking may, in the case of Showa, spread to cover the eyes, nose and cheeks; although some white on the head is desirable. Good, clearly defined, large Hi marking of uniform colour are important. Showa whose red markings are continuous from head to tail are called Hi Showa and although popular are said by the purists to lack refinement, possibly due to the absence of white skin.The white pattern should be pure in colour without staining to set off the Hi and Sumi. Pure white is less easily found in Showa than in Kohaku or Sanke and is therefore to be greatly admired. An area of about 20% white on the body is said to be the ideal.
As with all these rules, there is the exception; Kindai Showa being predominantly white.The sumi of Showa is perhaps the most important of the three colours and should be a solid dense black; Sumi on the head being particularly important. The division of the head with Sumi is called Menuare and is the traditional head pattern. However the alternative of a V shaped marking across the back of the head, sometimes with a further central marking running down towards the nose to form a Y shape is a more modern pattern which clearly defines the head. There are endless possibilities between these two styles. Too much Sumi on the head gives an unbalanced look to the Koi and is to be avoided. The body Sumi markings should be large and bold. The contrast between them and the white and red gives Showa its sense of power.
The Japanese have described the Sumi of Showa as mountain-shaped which is an apt description. The Sumi should also extend below the lateral line and give the appearance of wrapping the body. The other important area of Sumi is in the pectoral fins which should be black at the base radiating out to about one third of the fins. The feature is called Motoguro. Evenness of Motoguro on both pectoral fins is sought after as a sign of quality. The sumi of Showa also often runs into the tail and dorsal fins but there should he no Hi staining on these fins.To distinguish between Showa and Sanke is generally not dificult although the occasional query Koi does crop up. The distinguishing features between the two are that Showa have head sumi whilst Sanke does not; Showa also have Motoguro in the pectoral fins as opposed to stripes in Sanke. The body sumi extends below the lateral line in Showa whilst in Sanke it lies on the back with generally smaller markings. Also, the actual appearance of the sumi is quite different to the practiced eye.
Other variations on the Showa theme include: Kage Showa, meaning shadowed; the white of which has a blurred reticulated sumi pattern but should still retain the solid red and black markings. Koromo Showa on which the reticulated sumi markings appear on the red pattern. Kanoko Showa on which the Hi markings are dappled - good specimens of this variety are extremely rare. Metallic Showa are either Gin or Kin Showa; the Gin version having a silver lustre and the Kin version a gold lustre. Doitsu, Ginrin and Tancho varieties are also available. As with all patterned varieties it is the overall balance and harmony of the individual colours which are of the essence, this being especially true of the fascinating variety that is Showa.
Is named after the Japanese crane, a snow white bird with a red crest, being the national bird of Japan. It is also considered to be lucky. The single red spot on a white ground reminiscent of the Japanese flag, gives rise to the alternative name of Hinormaru and is consequently held in high esteem. Tancho generally consist of the big three varieties, namely Tancho Kohaku, Tancho Sanke and Tancho Showa, with the single red head marking being common to each. Although not bred purposely, Tancho occur naturally in the course of production of their respective varieties, nonetheless good specimens are highly prized. Tancho Kohaku, the main variety, is basically a simple Koi with a single red head marking and a white body. The head marking should be as large as possible with a circular shape being the ideal. This should lay centrally on the head without encroaching onto the eyes or extending too far towards the nose nor too far back towards the shoulders. A deep even red colour for the spot with sharply defined edges is a further essential requirement.
Alternative shapes such as oval, square, diamond or even heart shapes are sometimes seen and although not as highly regarded are acceptable providing they are symmetrical, clearly defined and well placed. Any Hi markings, other than the single head spot, means the variety is not Tancho, even Kuchibeni lips would render a Koi simply Kohaku .In the absence of any other colour on the body the need for clear snow white skin cannot be over-emphasised as any blemishes are very easily seen and detract from the overall beauty. Fins should also be pure white without staining.
Tancho Sanke is perhaps easiest described as a Shiro Bekko with a red head spot. The head marking should be as for Tancho Kohaku with no black present. The body should have the sumi markings and pattern of Bekko with well placed black markings to the upper body on fine white skin. The presence of red on the head makes for the three colours of Sanke and therefore it cannot be called Bekko, which has only two colours white and black. As with Tancho Kohaku, any further red markings on the body would turn the Koi into simply Sanke. Pectoral fins can be either white or showing the typical few stripes of Sanke.
Tancho Showa has a black and white body as found on Shiro Utsuri with the typical heavy wrapping sumi markings. A further important difference between Tancho Showa and the two preceding varieties is the fact that conventional showas do have black on the head. The shape and position of the red head spot is as previously described. Pectoral fins with the motoguro markings at the base, are a further requirement of this variety. Good specimens of Tancho Showa are rather rare but well worth seeking as they can be most striking.
Other combinations such as Goshiki or Ogon with tancho head spots are very occasionally seen and have a certain novelty value.
The 4th of the main varieties of Nishikigoi, the Utsurimono, is basically a two coloured Koi – the base colour of which is black, the second colour being either white Shiro Utsuri; red - Hi Utsuri; or Yellow - Ki Utsuri. Whilst today the name Utsuri is usually taken to mean Shiro Utsuri (the black and white version) the original Utsuri was the Yellow or Ki variety and was one of the earliest varieties developed.The name Ki Utsuri was only applied when the variety was stabilised in 1920 by Mr. Elizaburo Hoshino. It is a great pity that they are now uncommon and rarely seen. The vast majority of Utsuri now available are Shiro Utsuri which were developed in Niigata prefecture in the mid 1920's.
There are a great many similarities between Utsuri and Showa varieties, indeed the Shiro Utsuri could almost be considered as a Showa without any Hi (red). In fact, the breeding of Showa does often produce Utsuri. The points to look for therefore are much the same as with Showa.The basic sumi (black) pattern of Utsuri should be solid dense black and is generally very dominant in this variety. Having said that many of today's modern Utsuri, just as with Showa, have greater areas of white, producing a more delicate overall effect. The Sumi however should always be a rich solid black to provide the contrast against the white skin. Snow white skin is particularly valued in this variety.
Utsuri breeders in recent years have improved the white significantly and are now producing Koi with exceptional clear white body colour which is considered to be one of the main criteria of quality in Utsuri. Koi with good Sumi pattern but without fine white skin are much downgraded. The Sumi pattern should always extend onto the head, preferably dividing it and running down to the nose. Be wary of too much head sumi as this always increases with age and can lead to an undesirable black headed Koi. Many Utsuri have creamy or a yellow cast to the head usually a sign they are not of the highest quality.
Body markings on Utsuri, just as with Showa, should be large and imposing with well defined clear edges. Small markings give a broken look. The Sumi should also wrap around the body i.e. extend below the lateral line. As with all patterned Koi, balance is the key, not only from back to front but also side to side, this is especially important on a two coloured Koi with such contrasting colours. Underlying Sumi is often visible as grey under the skin, which, when developed, should produce stable black markings although there can be no guarantees as this variety is very changeable.The pectoral fins should have motoguro, black ball joints with black radiating outwards and not merely stripes. Utsuri with all black pectoral fins are often found giving a heavy appearance which is undesirable. The Sumi often extends into the dorsal and tail fins, which providing they are not totally black, is acceptable.
The other two colour varieties, the Hi (red) and the Ki (yellow) Utsuri should have all the previous points, but both tend to suffer from one serious drawback, that of black speckling on the red or yellow, this does detract from the overall appearance. Indeed this could be one of the reasons for these varieties not now being produced in any quantity. Specimens with no staining are very rare and highly valued, especially when large. The speckling tends to develop as the Koi gets older. The other important feature to look for is a uniform red or yellow colour, heads are often different in colour from the body. Having said all this, if you are looking for these varieties the choice will be so limited that it may not be possible to be too critical. One final point in selecting any of the three types of Utsuri – as they are basically a black Koi with coloured markings, they will always tend to produce more black as they grow older. It is perhaps wisest therefore to look for Koi with potential rather than one whose pattern is fully developed when small, as they always tend to darken and never the reverse.