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Related FAQs: Koi Varieties, Koi Selection,

Related Articles: Kohaku, Taisho Sanke, Showa Sanke, Tancho Koi, Bekko Koi, Utsurimono Koi, Koromo Koi, Kin/Gin Rin Koi, Asagi/Shusui Koi, Kawarimono Koi, Hikarimuji Koi, Hikari Utsuri Koi, Hikarimoyo Koi, Doitsu Koi, Butterfly Koi

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/Aquatic Gardens, Design, Construction & Maintenance

Koi Varieties

by Robert Fenner 

What do you call these?

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by Robert (Bob) Fenner

    There are many "carps" in freshwaters around the world, wild and ornamental, natural and purposely and not human-introduced. The wild brown/green European Carp, Cyprinus carpio, a sometimes food and game fish in the United States is the same species as the adored Nishikigoi, Koi, Brocaded or Ornamental Carp... in all of its many varieties.     

    As far back as 470 B.C., carp were cultured for food as well as for color, but it's not until the Tsin Dynasty (265-316 A.D.) that writings list the types available then. Five colors are detailed, red, black, yellow, blue, white from this time. Much later, the Japanese included Nishikigoi in their ponds. The majority of modern varieties were developed under their care, starting in the late 18th century. 

    There are a few "accepted" schemes for labeling ornamental carp, Nishikigoi, koi (by body color, three/four types of scale patterns)... and all are acceptable (to me) as long as they're descriptive, consistent and agreed upon by immediate/concerned parties. Different parts of the world, different hobby groups/clubs of clubs utilize varying schemes here, so don't let what is presented here throw you.... there are literally hundreds of descriptive varieties.

     In terms of "knowing" koi well enough for identification, you might consider learning their names by an historical approach (which types came first, later... who was involved in their development, which line lead to each...), a cladistic descriptive classification (all shiny, not so...), or rote memorization ("I have an Ohgon, it's that shiny sun-colored fish over there")... To each their own.

       Do remember that all koi are the same species, in fact, identical with the common carp, Cyprinus carpio, and like domestic dogs, Canis familiarus, can/do interbreed freely... Hence, you may find some "odd varieties" of koi at times.

Kohaku are white bodied koi with red markings (sometimes more orange than red)

Taisho Sanke, aka Taisho Sanshoku, White koi with principally red (Hi), and lesser black (Sumi) markings.

Showa Sanke, aka Showa Sanshoku, Black bodied koi  principally red (Hi), and white markings. Similar to Taisho Sanke, but with more black markings, including on the head and margins of the pectoral and tail fins.

Tancho: With a "Red Sun" marking on head, and lacking other red on the body. Best if the "spot" is bright red, w/o bleeding color, and circular, centered on the head.

Bekko ("Beck-Oh"): Solid body colored koi with black markings. Utsuri are often similar in appearance, but are black koi with  single complementary color varieties. I like to think of Bekko as "Turtle" with markings on their backs only... unlike the Utsurimono whose dark body bands extend under/around the belly.


Utsurimono: Black bodied koi with one color markings.

Koromo: Similar to Kohaku, but with accents of blue, black, purple mixed in with some to much of the red, due to cross-breeding with Asagi.

Gin/Kin Rin scaling

Gin Rin: Refers to pearl-silver reflective scales

Kin Rin: Refers to pearl-gold reflective scales. A rare variety.


Asagi: ("Sky Color"). Blue gray bodied koi, sometimes with red that comes up to the midway up on the head and body.

Shusui: Basically a doitsu scale Asagi. Large scales may be just along the midline of the back on the sides, or both.

Kawarimono: This is the "left-overs" category of koi classification. These are non-metallic colored koi that just don't fit into the other varieties (with the exception of Goshiki). In most cases, for lack of many entries, this "generic" grouping of Kawarimono typically compete against each other in shows.

Hikarimuji: Single colored metallic koi.


Hikari Utsuri: Includes all metallic Showa (and in some schemes, Utsuri) varieties.


Hikarimoyo: These are metallic koi of two or more colors other than Hikari Utsuri.

Doitsu: Mirrored scaled koi... with enlarged rows of scales along the midline of the back and/or the sides of the fish. The derivation of this name is from the Japanese/Nijongo for "Deutsch", for German scaled carp... initially bred for ease in scaling/preparing the fish for human consumption. Varieties are Kohaku, Sanke and Showa.

Butterfly Koi: A long finned making of all the other varieties of koi. The name "Butterfly" is appended to the front of the Japanese designation.

Or, if you'd like, and to reinforce the diversity of these sports and their classification, we can/will discuss them by the number of colors they bear:

Or perhaps a dichotomous key is more to your liking:

Bibliography/Further Reading:

http://www.koi.com/encyclopedia/ (Pan Intercorp's excellent classification)

Fujita, Grant. 1992. The new way of selecting koi. Koi USA 11,12/92.

Hansen, Galen. 1992. Goromo. Koi USA 11/12, 92

Kuroki, Takeo. 1993. Classification of Nishikigoi. pt.s 1-0 TFH 3/93 on

Tave, Douglas. 1989. Inheritance of scale pattern in koi. TFH 5/83.

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
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