Koi Varieties - Color Basics
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The plethora of unusual, difficult to remember names for all the different koi varieties can be mind boggling.  If you really
want to be able to tell what the difference is between a Sanke and a Showa for example, it's not that hard if you take it in
steps.  Learn a little bit at a time.
These are the big three, the Gosanke, the foundation stock of koi keeping.
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Move on to Scalation >>
The first thing to know is that colored koi started out in three distinct color varieties.  After that, every koi name describes the
varieity by color.  Additionally, koi are further classified according to their scalation, of which there are three types.  So let's
start out with the big three (color) and move on later to the little three (scalation).
Some quick history:  Koi (Cyprinus carpio or common carp), native to Eastern Europe and Persia, were originally raised for food
and exported throughout the world.  In the remote mountainous region of Niigata, Japan, koi were important as a source of
protein during the long winter months.  Through in-breeding in these remote farms and villages, mutations began to occur, and
the farmers would often keep the more colorful varieties for themselves as pets, bringing them into their homes over the
winter to a mud pond in the floor.  When things thawed out and the farmers got together, as farmers often do, they started
discussing their mutated colored koi and many of them bred their colored koi to their neighbor's colored koi, resulting in better
colored koi.  The Niigata perfecture in Japan is known as the birth place of koi.  Somewhere along the way, Nishikigoi
Nih-shee-kee-goi) was shortened to just "koi", and that is how most people refer to them today.
The first three color patterns developed were the Kohaku (Koe-ha-ku), Sanke (San-kay) and Showa (Show-ah).  These are the
big three, or Gosanke (
Go-san-kay).  Any time you hear someone refer to Gosanke, they are talking about one or all of these
foundation koi varieties.
So let's learn the difference between these three varieties.  First, the Kohaku.
The Kohaku (Koe-ha-ku) is any fish that is red and white, or more specifically, a
red pattern on a white ground.  It's important to note here that the Japanese have
a number of words for "red" and "yellow", but none for "orange".  When referring
to the color of a Gosanke, ALWAYS say RED, no matter how pathetic the red may
Next, the Sanke (San-kay)
The Sanke (San-kay) is any fish that is red, white, and black, with NO black (or
sumi, pronounced
sue-mee) on the head.  Think of a Sanke as a Kohaku with black
spots, but when in doubt, check for black markings anywhere forward of the gill
openings. If it has ANY black forward of it's gill openings, it is NOT a Sanke.
Finally, the Showa (Show-ah)
The Showa (Show-ah) is any fish that is red, black, and white.  Yes, that's right, I said red,
black and white, not red, white and black.  The Showa has predominantly more black than
white, whereas the Sanke has predominently more white than black. When in doubt, check the
head.  If it has ANY black forward of it's gill openings on it's head, it is a Showa.  Here's the way
you remember the difference between a Sanke and a Showa.  If you can
show me black on it's
head, it's a Showa.
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