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With each passing year the number of Koi fish increases and, as it does, the terminology becomes more and more complex. To the beginner it can seem quite confusing-and even to an informed fish enthusiast it can be difficult to remember every name applied to the various forms, the more so because all terms used are not accepted, even in Japan.
The names are in Japanese, they relate a great deal to the natural world around them. Many of the terms applied are derived from the names of flowers or birds, mountains or animals, plants or features of a landscape. Unique Koi can be described in many ways and each way is no less correct than any other, it being purely ones opinion on their features. For more on Koi Fish meaning click here.
Each Koi is a unique fish and no two are quite the same. They have different color, scale types and patterns and are classified according to their variations.
Even though they are classified according to their variation in color, generally they have one to three body colors. One-colored are the ogon (orange), Ki-goi (yellow), ogon (metallic), shiro (white) and muji (flat). The two colored Koi are described in such a way that the second word refers to the main color. For example, the ki-utusuri translates to yellow koi with reflection; utsuri is the Japanese term for reflection. Varieties with three colors are the most popular. The most common ones are the black ones with white and red mottles and the white one with black and red mottles.
Some varieties are described according to their patterns of coloration. The most common is the red and white with lightning-like pattern on its back, called the inazuma hi (red lightning). Another popular variety identified by its pattern is the tancho kohaku, the variety with a red pattern on their head.
Another way to identify a variety is by their scale pattern or lack of scales. For example, the German-Japanese hybrid is identified as Doitsu or German-scaled.
They are further sub-categorized into kani-go (scaleless), kagami-go (large scales on the ventral and dorsal parts of the body), and the ora doitsu (large and irregularly arranged scales).
One Koi variety is the Asagi Koi fish they are plain Koi compared with other varieties; they are non-metallic and lack the bright coloration of many Koi, being mainly grey-blue in color with Hi along the sides, cheeks and in the fins. However, a first-class Asagi is a elegant fish with a delicate pattern of scalation and fine color.
Bekko are mat (that is, non-metallic) white, red or yellow Koi that have a distinctive set of sumi markings over their body. They are often mistaken for Utsuri, which are similar but are predominantly black Koi with white, red or yellow markings. Their simple coloration and pattern ensure that the criteria by which they are judged are severe.
Bekko is also known as "tortoise shell" because it resembles a turtle.
One of the most quoted phrase in Koi Keeping is that the hobbyist begins with the Kohaku and ends with the Kohaku. In fact, many new hobbyists overlook the Kohaku in preference for the brightly colored Ogon and other metallic Koi because they feel that Kohaku look too much like goldfish. However, as they begin to appreciate the colors and patterns of Koi, hobbyists often turn to Kohaku because of their simplicity and elegance.
Sanke are extremely popular with hobbyists in all countries and, along with Kohaku and Showa, are among the major prize winners in competitions. Their wide variety of patterns can give them a more individual appearance than Kohaku at first glance.
The word Sanke literally means tricolor, the three color being red, white and black. In Japanese characters the word Sanke is also read as Sanshoku, the term used in early works on Koi.
Like Sanke and Kohaku, this variety is very popular. Showa have much more sumi in their pattern than Sanke and are very imposing. A bright, well-defined pattern over the body of the Showa is very important. The sumi often appears as a lightning strike "inazuma" - over the body of the Koi, or may be highly patterned and distinct, producing a 'flowery' effect.
Another variety in the Utsurimono group are often confused with those in the Bekko classification because of their similiar coloration. The main difference between the two is that Utsuri are black with white, red or yellow markings, whereas Bekko are white, red or yellow with black markings. A further distinction can be made in the head markings of these two groups - unlike Bekko, Utsuri have a sumi marking on the head that reaches down to the nose.
Their unusual coloration and doitsu scalation have made Shusui firm favorites with Koi Keepers, particularly those new to the hobby. They are basically doitsu Asagi and, like Asagi, have a tendency to go very dark in colder waters. As dark Shusui are worthless in terms of competition, it is not advisable to keep too many of this variety. Unlike the majority of other varieties, good Shusui are more common at size 1 than at size 4 and above, because of their tendency to darken with age. The coloration of bright startlingly beautiful.
The Koromo group are much admired by collectors. Koromo literally means “robed”. This describes the hi pattern, outlined in a darker color, which varies with the particular variety.
Although they tend to be insignificant when young, large specimens are very impressive, with an elegance to match that of Kohaku. If the patterns are complete when the fish is still small in size, the sumi is likely to overdevelop and become unbalanced as the Koi grows.
The chances of achieving a good Koromo are small compared with most other varieties. Koromo are bred from Kohaku crossed with Narumi Asai. This group have been in existence only since about 1950.
The Kawarimono classification accommodates all non-metallic Koi that do not fall into the other varieties and is, therefore, a constantly expanding group. It includes Koi that are the result of a cross between different varieties and others whose exact lineage is uncertain.
Although the Kawarimono group includes many different types, the criteria by which they are judged is no less vigorous than other varieties. All should have definite, clear-cut patterns and colors, and should be aesthetically pleasing. Larger Kawarimono can rival Kohaku, Sanke and Showa for major prizes in shows because of their subtle coloration and understated elegance.
The category Hikarimono (‘hikari’ meaning metallic, ‘mono’, single color) includes one of the most popular varieties, particularly with new Koi Keepers-the Ogon. Ogon are highly metallic Koi, normally silver or golden yellow in color, and contrast beautifully with other varieties. Indeed, it is generally agreed that the hobbyist should keep at least one Ogon in a pond for this reason. However, since they are such simple Koi, the more experienced breeder may miss the challenge of developing such patterns as are possible in 'Sanke', for example.
Because of their popularity, Ogon are bred in huge numbers, but the competition in shows is fierce. As with Kohaku, the deceptive simplicity of these single colored Koi means that the criteria by which they are judged are severe.
Hikari-Utsurimono, like Hikarimoyomono, have arisen from an Ogon cross, in this case with Utsuri or Showa. The Hikari-Utsurimon group are basically metallic Showa and Utsuri and the same criteria for appreciation apply, for example head pattern and pectoral fin markings.
These are living proof of the far-reaching effect that the Ogon has had in the breeding and classification of Nishikigoi over the past 25 years. The one drawback is that the strong metallic luster can make the colors appear to fade, so that the hi becomes brownish and the sumi grey and blurred. However, this is not always the case and fine-quality Koi in this classification are imposing, attractive and elegant in appearance.
Metallic Koi that have more than one color but are not of Utsuri lineage generally fall into the class of Hikarimoyo-mono. The Koi in this classification are extremely popular because they are highly metallic, appear in many colors and are immediately attractive to the eye.
Koi Keepers, especially those new to the hobby, are very attracted to baby Koi in this classification because they are so bright. However, when buying one of these young Koi, make sure that its head is clear of a black helmet-like marking. Although this is not unattractive on a young Koi, it becomes more noticeable as the Koi grows and will be a serious defect if you wish to show your Koi. In fact, such a Koi would be ruled out immediately by the judges.
The Koi varieties in the Hikarimoyomono classification have arisen from two sources. The first group includes Koi that have resulted from crossing a Platinum Ogon with any other variety except Utsuri. These crosses have produced such varieties as Yamato-nishiki (also know as a metallic Sanke), Gin Bekko and Kujaku. These Koi all have a metallic base overlaid with colored patterns.
The second group consists of varieties known collectively as Hariwake, and includes Orenji Hariwake, Hariwake Matsuba etc. These Koi all have two colors; platinum, and metallic orange or gold.
Tancho Koi are among the most popular of all Koi varieties and it is quite common for hobbyists to have more than one Tancho in a pond.
The name Tancho is derived from the national bird of Japan, the Tancho crane (Grus japonensis), which has one round red marking on its head, and the word tancho literally means ‘red spot on the head’.
These Koi are highly prized in Japan because of their similarity with the Japanese flag.
The Tancho classification differs from others in that it contains Koi from different varieties -namely, Kohaku, Sanke and Showa-that have one distinguishing feature-a red mark, or tancho, on the head.
Tancho Kohaku, in particular, are simple Koi and yet it is obvious that a great deal of effort has taken place in their development. Tancho Kohaku are White koi with red spot on the head only and silver scales.
Tancho Goshiki are Five colored koi with red spot on the head and silver scales.
Tancho Showa are Black Koi with white markings and a red spot on the head only and silver scales.
Kinginrin literally means ‘golden silvery scales’ and refers to the sparkling effect of the scales, which appears golden over hi and silver over white and sumi. The impression is of an iridescence in individual scales rather than the overall metallic luster of Koi in the Hikarimono group, for example. A Koi may have any number of such scales on its body but if there are less that about 20, the Koi will not be described as Kinginrin.
These Koi, which first appeared in 1929, are highly prized by hobbyists because of the way they shimmer in the sunshine and stand out from other Koi. Kinginrin has sometimes been considered a weak point as it can blur the edge of sumi and so spoil the pattern, but this is now not always the case, and kinginrin scales can add an impressive dimension to the color and pattern.
The species was deliberately introduced into the United States in 1963 for aquatic weed control. It was introduced into New Zealand along with stocks of goldfish but the distribution is carefully controlled to prevent it from becoming a more widespread pest.
The Grass Carp is considered an invasive species in the United States, however it is still stocked in many states as an effective biocontrol for undesirable aquatic vegetation, many species of which are themselves invasive.
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Variety Classified by Japanese Names
Color Patterns Classified by Japanese Names
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Below the pond’s surface, koi varieties glow in a bevy of brilliant colors and patterns. “Many customers prefer the shiny metallic colors over the standard kohaku, sanke and showa mixes that importers often have, so we’ve moved in that direction recently,” said Randy Lefever, president and co-owner of Blue Ridge Fish Hatchery in Kernersville, N.C.
Blue Ridge Koi Hatchery is the supplier of our Beautiful and Colorful Koi. Click Here for Fish for Ponds for our selection of Blue Ridge Koi and Fish.
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