Koi varieties, an introduction

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Go Sanke, the most important

written by Hugo J. Smal

During the Japanese Edo period (1603 – 1867), the successive Shoguns (rulers of military castes) always came from three closely related families: Mito, Kishu and Owan. They are known as Tokugawa Go-Sanke, which are considered the most important genera of the period. As a tribute to them, the three most famous variants of the Nishikigoi (Kohaku, Showa Sanshoku and Taisho Sanke) were named Go-Sanke.

Koi varieties diagrams.

Genealogy of fancy carp. Published in "Living jewels, general survey of fancy carp" by Masayuki Amano. Drawn by Mr. Masamoto Kataoka.
Genealogy of fancy carp. Published in “Living Jewels, general survey of fancy carp” by Masayuki Amano. Drawn by Mr. Masamoto Kataoka.
koi varieties
Most Koi varieties. Beware there are new varieties born in almost every decennium.

Other koi variants, not even Utsuri, could belong to the Go-Sanke class. After all, there were only three families with that name. There are about 150 different koi species today. All with their quality requirements and with their enthusiasts. It is therefore quite possible to transform the pond into a true colour festival. Most enthusiasts do that. Me too. Still, there’s something to be said for focusing solely on the Go-Sanke class.

True ambassadors for the Koi varieties

Big prizes on shows are only given to these three types. After the Asagi, they are the oldest koi varieties. They are the true ambassadors for the koi hobby. For example, a man like Peter Waddington, writer of Koi Kichi, really only talks about Go-Sanke. You will not find many other koi species on his farm. Yes, maybe a Bekko or an Utsuri and the occasional Shusui or an Asagi. But it ends there.

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All koi knowledge comes together in this class: the contrast between blackfish (Showa Sanshoku) and whitefish (Kohaku and Taisho Sanke). The most famous koi come from this class: the Kato Showa, which Takeo Kuroki says has never surpassed quality. The Crown Sanke whose perfectly balanced white and black markings are famous. And Loran shows how great the beauty and therefore the value of a koi can be. Everything about the Japanese koi culture joins the Go-Sanke class and all demands placed on other species originate from these three most respected koi.

Sumi or Shiro

Shiro Utsuri Image Rene Gerritzen
Shiro Utsuri Image Rene Gerritzen

Taisho Sanke and Kohaku are white fish with Showa Sanshoku being black. The differences are usually clear, but when assessing a Kindai Showa (modern Showa), for example, it can become difficult. Kindai Showa approaches the Taisho Sanke very close. Remember that Blackfish usually shows Motoguro. This is a round sumi mark on the pectoral fin against the abdomen. A white variety with Sumi markings usually has sumi stripes on those fins. It is also said that the sumi of the Showa resembles that of a tiger while that of a Sanke resembles the markings of a jaguar. If you can not figure it out at all, you can always look in the mouth. If there is black there, then it is a blackfish.


Kohaku Koi carpAll koi with a red pattern are judged by the Kohaku patterns. That is why it is extremely important to get to know them well. Study them as often as you can.
The white ground of the Kohaku and any other white fish we call Shiroji. In the past, not too much attention was paid to this. The red markings were more important. Now recognize that the red markings are corrected by a perfectly white background. It must be snow-white. As the koi grows, fukurin becomes visible. Fukurin is the skin of the koi. In small specimens, the scales are tightly together and nothing is seen of this skin. In large specimens, the skin appears between the scales and forms the highly valued net pattern.

Kohaku has different patterns.

There are the step patterns Nidan, Sandan and Yandan (successively two-, three-step and four-step) of which Sandan is the most classic. The straight hi has a mark from head to tail. This is Inazuma when the marking has a lightning bolt character. The Kohaku which has red lips is Kuchibeni. A Maruten Kohaku has a round mark on the head in addition to further markings. When the carp has only a round mark on the head it is called Tancho Kohaku.
The last markings must stop a little before the tail. This balances the fish and significantly increases its value. Attention should also be paid to the markings on the head. It is the face of the carp. It is best when it balances with the back mark.
Always make sure that the back of a mark, where the red scales over the white fall (kiwa) is always sharply lined. On the front, where the white scales fall over the red (Shashi), this applies less.

Taisho Sanke

Taisho Sanke Koi carpUltimately, a Taisho Sanke is nothing more than a Kohaku with the addition of sumi patterns. Everything above about the Kohaku therefore also applies to the Taisho Sanke. The Sanke must have a sumi mark on the shoulder, at the end of the dorsal fin and on the tail. They are necessary.
All other Sumi markings are incidental. Here, too, a whitetail set is important. If it is preceded by a red and only then a black, it is very elegant. Any other order is not appreciated. There should be no sumi on the head. The pectoral fins preferably show equal sumi stripes. That gives the fish a nice balance.

Showa Sanke

Showa Sanke Koi carpThis black koi variety should also have a nice Kohaku pattern. However, the black markings are much more massive than those of the Taisho Sanke. Wherewith the Sanke the sumi markings are only spots on a red white body, the Showa must have the three colours in balance. Assume that the classic Showa de Shiro markings should cover about 20 per cent of the total. Very important are the markings on the head and the motoguro. The one on the head should be interesting and give the fish its character. Preferably a red mark is cute there. The motoguro must sit nicely round against the belly on the pelvic fins. Here is also a whitetail set, preceded by a Sumi marking.

Also all about Korea Koi.

All about Korean Koi.Boost your Koi dedication.

Our writer Hugo J. Smal published his book: A Koi Life. It is about: the beautiful Koi, lovely Korea and his life dedicated to that. Much information about the Koi. Reading it gives your Koi dedication a boost.  You also get an introduction to Korea and the Koi they breed there: K-Koi. All this for just € 3,95.  Buy now!

Ginginrin and Doitstu

Benikikokuryo koi carp

All koi in the Go Sanke class can have silver or gold sparkles on their body. Ginrin stands for silver, and kinrin for gold. They give the fish extra beauty and are therefore highly appreciated. Almost all koi varieties also have a Doistu variant. Doistu means that the carp have no scales or only a scales line on the back and along the lateral line. These fish usually display their colours more beautifully and often grow larger than the scaly carp. They are therefore in demand. In competitions, they usually do not get many points because is much more difficult to develop a scaly carp undamaged.


Bekko Koi carpWhen Taisho Sanke is crossed with Taisho Sanke this results in Sanke, Kohaku and Bekko. The Kohaku are inferior and therefore thrown away. The good specimens Sanke and Bekko grow up. Important with the Bekko are the Shiroji and the Sumi markings. The most beautiful black on Bekko is Sashi Sumi. At the front, the markings fade black due to the overlapping white scales while the back shows a sharp Kiwa. Sashi resembles a fleeting brushstroke on black lacquer.



Utsuri Koi carpThere are three types of Utsurimo: Ki Utsuri (black with yellow markings), Hi Utsuri (black with red) and Shiro Utsuri (black with white). The latter is the most important! Good Ki and Hi Utsuri are rare. The Utsurimono varieties are most noticeable because the black markings at the base of the tail show themselves in a chessboard pattern. It is much appreciated when the two colours on the head are about the same size. Look at the Sumi in the same way as that of the Showa Sanshoku.


Asagi Koi carpKoi with a dark or light blue back, orange or red cheeks, pectoral fins and belly are Asagi. This variety is probably the first raised from the wild carp some 160 years ago. There are three types of wild black carp: Tetsu-Magoi (iron carp), the Asagi-Magoi and the Doro-Magoi (mud carp). The Asagi Magoi has dark blue scales and strong fukurin on its back. The net pattern only appears when the Asagi is mature. This further enhances when a dark area appears in the centre of each blue scale. The Asagi’s head should be clean and the red on the pectoral fins should be no more than a third of the fins. When it is the same on both fins, it provides a good balance. There should be no spots on the head and it should also be snow-white.


Shusui Koi carpShusui is the only Doitsu koi to be judged separately in competitions. The head should be light blue and the back dark blue. There should be no dark spots on it. The tip of the nose, the belly and the roots of the pelvic fins are red. The row of scales on the back makes the Shusui extra attractive.



Ogon Koi carpThe solid-coloured Ogon is perhaps the most popular all over the world.  A famous Japanese rose gave the Yamabuki (yellow) Ogon his name. A good one shines like pure gold. The Platinum Ogon shines, as the name says, like platinum. When fukurin becomes visible, the fish gains in beauty. The Ogon is famous for its friendly nature. When a silvery sparkle is visible on every scale, we call the fish Gin Matsuba.

Kujaku Koi carp
Kujaku: A Gin Matsuba Ogon with red or yellow markings we call Kujaku.
Goshiki Koi carp
Goshiki: This strain originates by crossing Kohaku with Asagi. Here, however, the dark blue markings do not appear on the red. It appears on the white scales.
Koromo Koi carp
Koromo: Cross between Asagi and Kohaku we call Ai-goromo. In Sumi-groom, the red scale has a dark mark in the middle. 
Kumoryu Koi carp
Kumonryu: This is a white carp with black markings. Those sumi markings should not appear on the head. Motoguro is appreciated. Kumonryu is often reminiscent of the panda bear. Very special is that the black markings can change every year. Buy the Komunryu as white as possible.
Chagoi Koi carp
Chagoi: Brown Ogon. Praised because the fish is very easy to tame. This affects the other fish positively. A Chagoi in the pond simplifies koi keeping. The Chagoi grows bigger very quickly and can take on considerable dimensions.
Ochiba Shigure Koi carp
Ochiba Shigure Brown Ogon with grey to blue markings. It originates by crossing Chagoi with Soragoi (grey).














Beautiful Koi in the Goyang Koi house:

There are lots of other Koi varieties. Almost 150. Too much to share in this blog. But if you did become curious. We are very happy to show you around the Goyang Koi farm.

In the meantime you can contact us: For Koreans: Kim Young Soo and English Hugo J. Smal. You find all information on Contact or use the contact form below.

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