Showa share an unlikely quality with polar bears, they both have black skin. In the bear this is hidden by thick white fur, while in the Koi the sumi pigment may not always dominate. Nonetheless, Showa are always black fish with red and white markings. This distinguishes them from Sanke, which have white skin.
The Showa is always a popular Koi, though it can be difficult to get a high quality one. The Showa made its debut during 1927. It was developed by Jukichi Hoshino who paired a Kohaku with a Ki-Utsuri. A Showa is essentially a black Koi on which white and Hi are imposed.
There are two basic patterns that are liked. One is the Inazuma type where the Sumi divides the head Hi into two and then zig-zags down the body.
The other pattern is where the Sumi forms a 'V' with the point of this towards the snout.
The head Sumi is most important for if it lacks impact, then it will detract from the whole fish. Likewise, a good Sumi on the head followed by a very large Hi that is unbroken by Sumi is not impressive either. It is for these reasons that really outstanding Showa are hard to come by.
The Showa is the surprise Koi, the one whose pattern can change as it gets older. People tend to like it becuase of its unpredictability.
It is also most prone to mouth deformities and a bad head shape.
There are four varieties:
The Showa colors are predominantly black Koi with red and white markings. The uniformity of color are very important, and the white should be the color of snow. A traditional Showa should should generally have about 20 percent of white over it body, but this is not always the case. All color should be clean and well defined.
The white should have the same pure clarity as that of the Kohaku and Sanke. The original Showa was bred out of Ki-Utsuri and Kohaku and the resulting hi was a yellow-red hue, but in the 1960s the quality of the hi was improved and brightened by breeding Kohaku to Showa. A bright Kohaku-like hi is preferred.
The sumi of a Showa could have originated in either Tetsu-Magoi (early examples) or Asagi (later examples). The indigo Asagi sumi, which does not rise from the abdomen but emerges just below the lateral line and upward, is more desirable although it takes many years to grow from thin gray to shiny, thick ink black. The large sumi markings should be ebony in color and the hi blood red.
Even on Kindai Showa- which, with their blinding white skin, seem at first glance to be more like Sanke - the sumi is the giveaway. It is nearly always present on the head, striking through the hi and white. "Menware" sumi resembles a lightning bolt, while another well-known Showa head sumi configuration is V-shaped, starting on the shoulders, with the pointed end towards the nose. However, there is no set standard for Showa head markings. The important thing is that they are attractive: all-black heads, or smudged sumi, are not.
The Showa equivalent of an Aka Sanke is a Hi Showa (both "aka" and "hi" meaning red). But because Showa sumi is so bold and distinctive, it can lift the overall appearance of the Koi, even when there is little white present. Hi Showa are easily confused with Hi Utsuri, which are black Koi with exclusively red markings. If any white at all is visible on the body when the fish is viewed at a 45° angle, the Koi is still Showa.
The ideal motoguro pattern on Showa pectoral fins consists of evenly matched semicircular blocks of sumi around the ball joints. These may be present in very young fish, or may develop through shrinkage of pigment in fins that start off all black. On the other hand, dark fins may remain that way. If they do, both left and right pectorals should mirror one another, otherwise the Showa will look unbalanced.
There is generally more sumi in Showa than in Sanke fins although, again, some Kindai (predominantly white) Showa may show none at all.
More than any other Koi variety, Showa are prone to physical deformities of the mouth and spine. If these are obvious, steer clear of the fish. More often, the defects are not that clear-cut and become apparent only on close inspection. View the Koi from all angles, note how it swims, and give it a through looking over when it is first bagged up.
Another common failing is seen in Showa whose front-end patterning tails away to virtually nothing. Because the interaction of three colors is so successful, it is easy to be beguiled by a charming head, while failing to notice that the tail end of the fish lacks hi, or else is sumi-heavy.
Fully emerged Showa sumi should be a deep, glossy black, with no hint of chocolate brown. Hard water, rich in calcium and magnesium salts, brings out black better than soft water. Emergent sumi is blue-grey, and forms a netlike pattern under the skin, which fills in with age. On some fish this dappled, shadowy sumi remains into adulthood, and the Koi are then as Kage Showa. In the West these were once benched Kawarimono, which let to disputes between owners and judges, because the distinction between finished and unfinished sumi is difficult to draw.
No variety changes so radically with age as Showa. Babies can resemble Kohaku or Sanke, with only a hint of sumi. Hi markings, too, can come and go before they stabilize. This makes Showa a very exciting prospect, as even the breeders cannot tell with any certainty how pattern will develop. It may get better, it may get worse. So if you buy a young fish with good body shape and skin quality, its potential lies in the lap of the gods, to be maximized by good koi-keeping practice.
Tancho Showa are benched Tancho. Unlike in their Sanke counterparts, the head hi marking is usually struck through with sumi, rather than standing alone.
Gin-Rin Showa (benched Gin-Rin) are not very common in the West, but deserve to be: good examples practically glow. As in all Gin-Rin Koi, the presence of sparkling scales should not blind you to obvious shortfalls in pattern or skin quality. Similarly, the white skin of Doitsu Showa must be the color of snow, with no hint of a bluish tinge, and the enlarged scales along the dorsal surface and flanks need to be evenly arranged.
Some noteworthy Showa crosses include Koromo Showa, with interesting reticulation of the hi (benched Showa), and Showa Shusui (Doitsu fish where the dorsal scales are blue). These go into the Kawarimono class.
Of the three Koi varieties collectively known as Go Sanke, Showa are by far the youngest. They can be traced back to 1927, when a breeder in Niigata crossed a Ki Utsuri (a black fish with yellow markings) with a Kohaku. As you might expect, this produced tricolor Koi in which the hi was a washed-out orange. Only in 1965, when descendants of these early Showa were back-crossed to Sanke and other Kohaku, did proper scarlet hi and deep, glossy sumi begin to appear.
Showa do not have directly traceable bloodlines, and the continued introduction of Sanke genes is blurring the distinctions between the two varieties. The configuration, rather than the amount, of sumi remains the benchmark. In traditional Showa, where red is the predominant color, the black takes the form of bold wrappings, sometimes extending up from the belly, and quite different to typical Sanke tortoiseshell sumi of the Bekko type, which is confined to the area above the lateral line.
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