Japanese Garden Journal

Koi Varieties

JOJG publishes regular articles explaining the different koi varieties.  Just like plant cultivars or purebred dogs, nishiki-goi are selected for their markings and categorized into roughly a dozen varieties.

Here are a few representative articles about the different koi varieties and how to identify and judge them.


THE KOH-HAKU VARIETY   Hoh-haku koi are the cornerstone of any serious koi collection.  They are fairly simple in appearance, with red markings on a white body.  But simplicity aside, this is undeniably the most important and most fundamental koi variety.  Koh-haku form the root breeding stock of many other varieties, and they commonly win the "grand champion" award at prestigious koi shows.

SHOWA KOI   This 4-page article is about the "Showa" variety of Japanese koi.  Showa koi are typically called "black fish with red and white markings."  This is because the Showa koi's base color (the color of the belly, the mouth, and the base of the pectoral fins) is black.  Words like "Powerful, Heavy, and Magnificent" are all commonly used to describe the Showa koi's appearance. 

TAISHO SANSHOKU   Often mistakenly called "sanke," this variety of koi is known for its combination of color and grace.  Taisho koi are basically white fish with black and red markings.  They do not have any black on the head, belly, or base of the pectoral fins.

ASAGI KOI   In this koi the body is generally light blue with a pine cone effect generated by the scales.  The cheeks, abdomen, and joints of the fins are red.  This fish is a venerable "fruit cup" of colors and textures.

THE UTSURI VARIETIES   Utsuri koi are known for their bold contrast and powerful appearance.  Displaying dynamic patterns of black and just one other color, these fish are among the most spectacular in any pond.

BEKKO KOI   The bekko (pronounced BECK-ko) koi variety looks something like a Dalmatian, with small black spots over a solid base color.  Unlike some Japanese koi varieties, bekko are not considered to be glorious or flamboyant fish, but they do offer their own style of simplicity and grace.  This article examines what makes for a good bekko koi.

TAISHO VS. SHOWA   This article explains how to tell the difference between a taisho-sanshoku and a fish known as a "kindai showa."  The two fish are similar with just slight differences.  In general, the base color of a taisho koi is white while the base color of the kindai showa is black.  In addition to this, there are several specific identification traits to tell the difference between the two.  This article lists six of those traits.

GO-SANKE - THE BIG THREE KOI VARIETIES   The Japanese term go-sanke means "big three families."  This article explains why the term is applicable to the "big three" Japanese koi varieties of koh-haku, showa, and taisho.  The article also goes on to explain why the commonly used koi term "sanke" is not appropriate and reflects ignorance, rather than expertise, on the part of the speaker.

TANCHO VARITIES   Tancho koi can be identified by a large round red marking on the fish's forehead.  There are three tancho koi varieties: tancho kohaku, tancho sanshoku, and tancho showa.  This article discusses the Japanese word "tancho" and how it is related to a famous breed of Japanese crane.  The article also discusses some aspects of koi breeding.