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Koi Variety

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.

Scale Pattern

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 picture

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.


kohaku picture

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 picture

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.


Showa Picture

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.


Utsurimono Picture

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.


Shusui Picture

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.


Koromo Picture

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.


Kawarimono Picture

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.

Hikarimono (Ogon)

Hikarimono (Ogon)

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 Picture

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.


Hikarimoyo picture

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 picture

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 Picture

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.

Grass Carp

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

Asagi Asagi display a blue net-like pattern on the back, complemented by red or orange on the belly, gill plates, fins and body. The red or orange pattern will develop up from the bottom of the body as it ages. Top quality Asagi have a red pattern that does not extend above the lateral line. Variations of Asagi include Gin Rin Asagi and Hi Asagi.
Bekko A "stepping stone" pattern of black markings on a white, red or yellow ground.
Chagoi Are solid colored brown or bronze with a subtle reticulated net pattern. Although they are not nearly as flashy or colorful as other types, Chagoi are still a welcome addition to your collection. Because of their close genetic relationship with wild carp, Chagoi are some of the friendliest and most docile koi available. This makes them the easiest to train to hand feed, and other varieties may follow suit when they see a Chagoi hand feeding. Variations of Chagoi include Gin Rin Chagoi and Doitsu Chagoi.
Goromo Goromo are, in essence, a Kohaku with blue or black edging added to each red scale. There are three sub types of Goromo: Budo Goromo have a blue edging outside of the scales that creates a grape-like cluster effect; Ai Goromo have blue edging only on the inside of the red scales; Sumi Goromo have black edging on the scales that can make the patterns appear almost completely black. Variations of Goromo include Tancho Goromo and Maruten Goromo.
Goshiki Literally meaning five colors (white, red, black, blue, and dark blue.)Goshiki have a solid white base with black and blue edging, and red and black patterns overlaying the white, black and blue colors of the base. Variations of Goshiki include Gin Rin Goshiki and Tancho Goshiki.
Hariwake Hariwake display a solid metallic-white base coupled with bright, vibrant patterns of yellow or orange. The bright, luminous white of Hariwake differs from the softer, matte-white of Kohaku and Sanke. Hariwake with a bright yellow pattern are commonly referred to as Lemon Hariwake. Variations of Hariwake include Tancho Hariwake, Gin Rin Hariwake, Doitsu Hariwake (also known as Kikusui).
Hikari-Moyomono All metallic with patterns of two or more colors (other than those bred out of Utsuri types).
Hikari-Mujimono Single metallic colors and their matsuba and ginrin variations.
Hikari-Utsurimono Metallic versions of Showa and Utsurimono.
Kikokuryu Kikokuryu are scaleless (doitsu) with a white base combined with areas of black inside the single row of scales, along the back outside of the row, and on on the head around the eyes and nose. Kikokuryu are commonly thought to be metallic versions of Kumonryu.
Kin Kikokuryu Kin Kikokuryu combine orange or yellow with the black and white patterns of Kikokuryu to form the newest variety in the industry.
Ki Utsuri Ki Utsuri, by far the rarest type of Utsuri, combine patterns of yellow over a lacquerish black body. Ki Utsuri are judged by the same criteria as Shiro and Hi Utsuri. Variations of Ki Utsuri include Gin Rin Ki Utsuri and Kin Ki Utsuri.
Hi Utsuri Hi Utsuri combine the lacquer-black base color with patterns of deep red or orange. Red Hi Utsuri are superior to orange. Many Hi Utsuri will display a dull orange pattern at a young age, which may develop into a brighter and more desirable red pattern as they grow and mature. Variations of Hi Utsuri include Gin Rin Hi Utsuri and Doitsu Hi Utsuri.
Shiro Utsuri Shiro Utsuri have a black base overlain by areas of white. A high quality Shiro Utsuri will combine clean white patterns with a deep, lacquer-like black. A split head of both black and white is also an important requirement for top quality specimen. Variations of Shiro Utsuri include Gin Rin Shiro Utsuri, Gin Shiro Utsuri and Doitsu Shiro Utsuri.
Kikusui Although technically they are the Doitsu version of Hariwake, scaleless white with patterns of orange or yellow are commonly referred to as Kikusui. The bright, metallic colors of Hariwake are also present in Kikusui. Tancho Kikusui are the sole variation of Kikusui.
Kinginrin Any variety that display shiny scales along the flanks or length of the back.
Kohaku Kokaku, the oldest and most well known variety, have a solid white base with patterns of red overlaid on top of the white. Top quality Kohaku display a bright, blemish-free white combined with deep, vibrant red tones. The even distribution of the pattern along the body is also very important. Variations of Kohaku include Doitsu Kohaku, Gin Rin Kohaku, Maruten Kohaku and Tancho Kohaku.
Koromo Scales "robed" (outlined) in blue or black to create a mesh pattern on the red markings of Kohaku, Sanke, or Showa.
Kawairmono All nonmetallic, or any varieties not conforming to the standards of the other varieties, including single colored Koi.
Kujaku Kujaku have a solid white base, accented by a black net pattern along with patterns of red/orange/yellow. The net pattern is created by a black edging on each individual scale. Variations of Kujaku include Doitsu Kujaku, Tancho Kujaku and Maruten Kujaku.
Kumonryu Kumonryu are scaleless (doitsu) with patterns of grey or white combined with black. Probably the most intriguing variety, Kumonryu will completely change their pattern many times throughout their life. They can go anywhere from solid white to solid black, or any conceivable combination in between.
Beni Kumonryu Beni Kumonryu are Kumonryu with the presence of a third color, red. Just like Kumonryu, Beni Kumonryu can change their pattern completely many times throughout their lifespan.
Matsuba Matsuba combine a solid, metallic colored base with a black net pattern. The base color of Matsuba can vary. Gin Matsuba have a white base color, while Ki Matsuba have a yellow base color, and Aka Matsuba have a red base. The sole variation of Matsuba is Doitsu Matsuba.
Ochiba Shigure Ochiba Shigure, commonly referred to as Ochiba, combine the brown/bronze of Chagoi with the silver/grey of Soragoi. The name Ochiba Shigure translates as "autumn leaves falling on water", a reference to the silver and bronze pattern. Variations of Ochiba include Gin Rin Ochiba and Doitsu Ochiba.
Ogon Solid color.
Platinum Ogon Platinum Ogon, also known as Purachina Ogon, are solid, metallic-white. A clear white head and unblemished white body are crucial to the quality of a Platinum Ogon. Variations of Platinum Ogon include Gin Rin Platinum Ogon and Doitsu Platinum Ogon.
Yamabuki Ogon Yamabuki Ogon have a solid, metallic-yellow color. As with other Ogon, a clean, unblemished head and body are important. Variations of Yamabuki Ogon include Gin Rin Yamabuki Ogon and Doitsu Yamabuki Ogon.
Showa Sanshoku Showa Sanshoku, more commonly known as Showa, that display white and red/orange patterns over top of a black base color. Showa can be easily confused with Sanke. In Showa, the black patterns will wrap all the way around the body, instead of appearing only on the top half of the body. Also, Showa will have black patterns on the head, and Sanke will not. The red, white and black should be balanced about the body evenly, with crisp, clean edges between each color. Variations of Showa include Tancho Showa, Maruten Showa, Gin Rin Showa, Doitsu Showa and Kin Showa.
Shusui Shusui are the scaleless (doitsu) version of Asagi. The blue net pattern is replaced by a single row of scales along the dorsal line at the top of the back. Like Asagi, the belly, gill plates, sides and fins of Shusui display an orange or red pattern. Variations of Shusui include Gin Rin Shusui and Hi Shusui.
Soragoi Soragoi, similar to Chagoi, are a solid grey or silver color, combined with a subtle net pattern. Also like Chagoi, mature Soragoi are very docile and will be among the first to learn to hand feed. Variations of Soragoi include Gin Rin Soragoi and Doitsu Soragoi.
Taisho Sanke Taisho Sanke, or Sanke for short, have a solid white base overlaid by patterns of both red and black. It is commonly said that, a high quality Sanke pattern begins with a great Kohaku pattern, to which the black is a welcome complement. Variations of Sanke include Doitsu Sanke, Maruten Sanke, Tancho Sanke, and Gin Rin Sanke.
Tancho Tancho is a hugely popular variation of Kohaku, in which the only red pattern appears as a single red dot on the head. The symmetry and placement of the Tancho mark are main factors in determining the quality of any particular koi. Tancho are highly regarded in the Japanese industry for their resemblance to the Grus japonensis, or Red-Crowned Crane. Although the Tancho mark can appear in many varieties, the word "Tancho" by itself is almost always used to refer to Tancho Kohaku. Variations of Tancho include Gin Rin Tancho and Doitsu Tancho.
Utsurimono White, red, or yellow ground on which a bold, often continuous, sumi pattern is laid.

Color Patterns Classified by Japanese Names

Ai blue
Aka red (whole fish)
Beni dark red
Bekko black & white
Bu size classification
Budo purple
Cha brown
Doitsu german scale, these are either completely scaleless or have rows of large scales along the dorsal and lateral lines.
Gin silver (white metallic)
Ground base color of the scales.
Hi red, as a color, marking, or pattern.
Kana Male
Karasu black (whole fish)
Ki yellow
Kin gold (yellow metallic)
Matsuba pine cone pattern
Mena female
Midori green
Mono thing or object
Moyo pattern or design
Moyomono patterned thing
Muji plain
Nezu gray
Orenji orange
Rin shiny scale
Shiro white
Sumi black, as a color, marking, or pattern.
Tategoi small koi with potential.
Tobi-hi A small hi marking isolated from the main pattern.
Wagoi normal scales.

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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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