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Sanke History

Sanke were among the first Koi ever exhibited. A male Sanke, owned by a man called Gonzo Hiroi from Shoiya, was shown at the Tokyo Exhibition in 1914, where the Emperor’s son saw Koi for the first time. The names of the first breeders of Sanke were not recorded, but, as this Koi was approximately 15 years of age at that time, the first Sanke were probably produced at the end of the nineteenth century (or between 1868 and 1912-the Meiji era of Japanese history).

Over the past 60 years the markings of the Sanke have changed quite dramatically. The first Sanke were very striped in appearance but today’s show winning Sanke is a beautifully balanced Koi whose sumi, although deeper in shade, is more delicate in appearance then that of its ancestors. Many distinct lineages have been developed. Among the better know is the Sadazo Sanke bred by Sadazo Kawakami, which has bright hi markings with small sumi markings that do not overlap the hi.

Sanke Colors

The Sanke is a three-colored Koi with hi (red) and sumi (black) markings on a white base. As with the Kohaku, the depth of these colors is very important. The white should be the color of snow-a yellowish white does not give a good background for the pattern to stand out against, it gives the Koi a dull appearance, and generally lacks the visual impact of a pure, opaque white.

The hi should be a deep hue and of uniform shade. The proportion of red to white should be the same as on a good Kohaku. Sanke are basically Kohaku with Bekko markings.

The sumi of a Sanke, like all other Koi colors, should be fine, uniform in shade, and with a good depth of color. It should be shiny in appearance, like Japanese lacquer. As sumi should overlay the Kohaku-style pattern, the markings need to be clearly defined in order to stand out. They should also appear in a balance pattern.

A Koi with poor sumi will obviously never make a good show Koi because the pattern may fade when it is bowled, giving it the appearance of only a second-rate Kohaku. Sumi that is apparent in fry and remains in the adult Koi is known as “moto”, or original sumi, and that which appears later is called ‘ato’, or late sumi. Keep in mind when buying young Sanke, the fact that a Sanke’s sumi can change in quality throughout its life. Good sumi in baby Koi, for example, can deteriorate as the fish grows; it is rare for a Sanke with good sumi markings as a baby to keep in that condition above a size 4. A Sanke that has underlying sumi markings-known as ‘sashi’ - as a baby, on the other hand, becomes more stable with age.

Sanke Patterns

Because Sanke are so closely linked with Kohaku, it is not surprising that the starting point for a good specimen is that it shows a credible Kohaku pattern, in other words, try to ignore the sumi and concentrate on the hi, which should be interestingly placed and strong in its own right. Sumi should not "fill in" for deficiencies in hi distribution. The black is a complementary color.

Although Sanke differ from Kohaku in that they have three colors, the criteria by which the two varieties are judged are very similar. The balance of color and pattern is of the greatest importance on Koi. Very simply, if the sumi were removed from a well marked Sanke it would be a good Kohaku, whereas if the hi were removed, it would make a good Shiro Bekko.

Sanke Head

Sanke Koi

There should be no sumi on the head of a Sanke. The head pattern required is the same as on a Kohaku; that is, a large U-shaped marking, which should not extend down over the eyes, the face, or as far as the mouth.

Sanke Body

Large hi markings are preferred down the length of the Sanke’s body, complemented by sumi markings, which should also extend the length of the body. Sumi markings should start on the shoulder, along with a hi marking, giving a balanced pattern down the body.

Sumi markings should be small in number, an excessive amount of smaller sumi markings gives the Koi an untidy appearance, and should not extend below the lateral line of the Koi.

Sanke Tail

Sanke tend to suffer with too much sumi toward the tail, and this can be detrimental to the fish’s appearance. As with Kohaku, the pattern over the body of the Koi, of both sumi and, even more importantly, hi, should end cleanly just before the tail joint.

Sanke Fins

Striped sumi is preferred in all the fins, but especially in the caudal and pectoral fins of the Koi. Sumi in the fins is a sign of stability in the sumi over the body of the Koi. Too large a number of sumi stripes can lead to a loss of gracefulness in appearance, however. Solid sumi in the joint of the pectoral fins, and then in any of the fins, is also considered detrimental. Sanke may have no color in their fins.

Sanke Varieties

  • Aka Sanke This is a Sanke whose hi marking extends the length of the body.
  • Maruten Sanke This is a Sanke with a separate hi markings on the head.
  • Fuji Sanke Not a variety as such, this is the name given to a Sanke with a highly metallic luster on the head, visible as minute bubbles. Such markings tend to disappear when the Koi grows.

Tancho Sanke are effectively Shiro Bekko with additional hi confided to the head. These are benched Tancho. In Budo Sanke, all the hi is overlaid with sumi, to give a purplish effect. These fish are benched Kawarimono or Koromo. Otherwise, all matt-scaled Sanke are judged in their own class, and the terminology applied to them merely reflects the Koi's appearance. For example, in Aka Sanke, hi is the dominant color. Fish whose pattern runs unrelieved from head to tail, with no interesting white cut-ins, are not well thought of. Unsubtle as they are, good examples of Aka Sanke can still look very imposing.

Like their Kohaku counterparts, Maruten Sanke, have a patch of head hi not connected to the red markings on the body. "Menkaburi" (meaning hood) is the term for head hi extending down over the nose and jaws, while Kuchibeni Sanke have the characteristic lipstick-like hi markings.

Gin-Rin Sanke display sparkling scales, too numerous to count; they appear gold over hi and silver over white skin. These Koi are benched Gin-Rin, but can be confused with Sanke of the Matsunosuke bloodline, whose skin has a subtle shine termed "fukurin". There is an ongoing debate as to whether this term should apply to Go Sanke at all, but meanwhile these Matsunosuke fish continue to be benched Sanke, not Gin-Rin. A further refinement of Matsunosuke Sanke is that the bloodline has been back-crossed with ancestral Magoi to improve growth potential. Young fish, therefore, tend to be slimmer than most other Koi, taking several years to attain a voluminous body shape.

There is no identity crisis with Doitsu Sanke. These are very sharply dressed Koi, with no scales to blur the pattern edges. Good examples look as though the colors have been applied thickly with a brush. In most Western shows they are benched with other Sanke, and fare poorly against them because they lack subtlety. However, in shows run along Japanese lines, they go into a separate Doitsu judging class, where they do not have to compete against fully scaled Koi.

Metallic Sanke (Yamatonishiki) are benched Hikarimoyo, and all crosses between Sanke and other, nonmetallic Koi (except Koromo) go into the catch-all Kawarimono class.

Choosing Sanke

Buying young high grade Sanke can be exciting, not to say risky. Many of the best examples show little, if any, sumi until the age of two. Outwardly, they are Kohaku. Only the breeder can make an educated guess, from past experience, as to how these Koi will develop, because the various bloodlines perform in very different ways. For example, Matsunosuke Sanke start life with very faint, blue-grey sumi that gradually deepens, whereas Kichinai Sanke appear "finished" at an early age. Here, the only real change is that the skin stretches as it grows, affecting the distribution of hi and sumi over the white base color. For that reason, young Sanke that are perfect miniatures of mature Koi are not always a wise buy, although they may initially do well in shows.

Sanke sumi in yearling Koi may even vanish in the second season and reappear later. Early, stable sumi is called "moto sumi", while black that appears later is known as "ato sumi". Sumi can overlay either hi (kasane sumi) or white skin (tsubo sumi). In most Sanke, both types are present but those rare Koi displaying only tsubo sumi are especially sought after. However, this situation may change, because tastes in Sanke are subject to fashion. Once, heavy sumi was in vogue. This gave way to a preference for minimalist sumi, present as strategically placed black accents. Now, almost anything goes, as long as the overall effect is pleasing. As with Kohaku, individuals that creatively break the rules and appear unique tend to score over fish with more traditional patterns.

Certain ground rules, or Sanke trademarks, help distinguish them from the superficially similar Showa. Sanke sumi is of the Bekko, or tortoiseshell type, and rarely present below the lateral line or on the head. It may or may not extend into the fins. If it does, the pectoral sumi typically takes the form of subtle stripes, rather than an aggregation of black in the ball joint area with stripes radiating from it, known in Showa as "motoguro".

Nevertheless it is becoming ever harder to tell the two varieties apart, and no single trademark can be a foolproof guide to identification. Only by evaluating them all together does the picture become clearer.

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