The history of Koi
Today Koi are bred in every country and considered to be the most popular fresh-water ornamental pond fish and are often referred to as being “living jewels” or “swimming flowers”.
Koi are a variety of the common carp, Cyprinus carpio.
Contrary to belief, Koi are not indigenous to Japan. They are believed to originate from eastern Asia, in the Black, Caspian, Aral Seas and China. The earliest written records of Koi were found in China. Koi were believed to be introduced to Japan with the invading Chinese and a first account of them being kept by an emperor in Japan, apparently dates Back to AD 200.
Carp fossils have been discovered in South China dating back about 20 million years. Some varieties are known for their hardiness, which records claim can live for long periods of time if simply wrapped in wet moss continuously kept damp.
Koi, or Nishikigoi. – Japanese for “brocaded” carp – were first described in writing from a Chinese book written during the Western Chin Dynasty, 265-316 A.D. At that time they were described as white, red, black and blue.
What happened to Koi between the 2nd to the 17th century is still a mystery, but many suspect Koi gradually spread through the orient, possibly by way of trade caravans to and from the middle east.
The farmers in the rice-growing region of the Niigata Prefecture started raising magoi (carp) to supplement their winter diet. They raised these carp in the ponds they used to flood their rice paddies. About 200 years ago one of the farmers noticed a carp with some red color. Some of the farmers started separating the fish that had different coloration’s, and breeding them together.
The interest in this pastime grew and more color variations were developed. It wasn’t until 1914 that some of the most beautiful varieties were shown at an exposition in Tokyo. Some of these colored carp were presented to Crown Prince Hirohito.
The Varieties of Koi.
1.KOHAKU The Kohaku is the most popular variety of Nishikigoi. So much so that there is an expression, “Koi avocation begins and ends with Kohaku.” It is also the most abstruse. There are various tones of “red” color – red with thick crimson, light red, highly homogeneous red, blurred red, and so on. And there are all sorts of “Kiwa (the edge of the pattern)” -scale-wide Kiwa, razor-sharp Kiwa, and Kiwa resembling the edge of a torn blanket, etc. Shades of white ground (skin) are quite diversified too — skin with soft shade of fresh-unshelled, hardboiled egg, skin with hard shade of porcelain, yellowish skin, and so forth.
2.TAISHO SANSHOKU (SANKE) Taisho Sanshoku are Kohaku added with Sumi (black markings). Taisho Sanshoku have more varied patterns than Kohaku due to the highly variable Sumi. Inspection of Taisho Sanshoku can, therefore, begin with observation of red patterns. And observation of red pattern may be done as explained under “Kohaku.” Sumi have different quality according to koi’s ancestry. Taisho Sanshoku of the Sadozo linage appear to have more Sumi of round shape with deep insertion of patterns. The hidden black markings appearing on the bluish skin will become glossy, fine Sumi. Taisho Sanshoku of the Jinbei lineage have massive Sumi of good quality. However, this Sumi may get cracked or break into pieces (pebble Sumi) when the Koi get older.
3.SHOWA SANSHOKU (SHOWA) Whereas Kohaku and Taisho Sanshoku have red and/ or black markings on the white ground, Showa Sanshoku have red markings on white patterns formed on the black background. We have discerned such different arrangement by observing the processes of fry development. Kohaku and Taisho Sanshoku are almost completely white when freshly hatched. Young fry of Showa varieties (including Showa Sanshoku, Shiro Utsuri and Hi Utsuri, etc.), on the other hand, are almost completely black when just emerged from eggs. As days go by, white patterns become visible against the black background, and red markings will soon appear on the white patterns. We should, therefore, say that Showa Sanshoku have black texture. The Sumi of Showa Sanshoku are very different from that of Taisho Sanshoku. While the latter look more like western oil-paintings, the former carry the tone of oriental black-and-white paintings (with ink). In other words, the Sumi of Showa Sankshoku seem to be all connected below the surface. Consequently, Showa Sanshoku appear quite magnificent.
4.UTSURIMONO Utsurimono are derived from the same lineage as Showa Sanshoku which I mentioned before. They too have black skin, and are divided according to the color of interlacing markings into “Shiro Utsuri (contrasted by white markings),” “Hi Utsuri (contrasted by red markings)” and “Ki Utsuri (contrasted by yellow markings).” Like in Showa Sanshoku, Sumi of Shiro Utsuri should essentially covers the nose, side faces (‘Menware’ for diverging head pattern) and pectoral fin joints (‘Motoguro’ for black base). Hi Utsuri and Ki Utsuri have red and yellow markings respectively in place of white ones on Shiro Utsuri. The body of Hi Utsuri and Ki Utsuri has the same Sumi as Shiro Utsuri, but their pectoral fins do not show Motoguro, but are striped instead. Formerly Utsurimono were produced mostly as by-products of Showa Sanshoku breeding. Recently, however, very high quality Utsurimono have been bred with excellent Shiro Utsuri on one or both sides of parentage. Hi Utsuri continue to be born as the by-products of Showa Sanshoku breeding. However, we have seen very little of Ki Utsuri lately.
5.BEKKO Bekko are produced in the process of breeding Taisho Sanshoku. They, therefore, have the same Sumi as Taisho Sanshoku, which as a rule should not appear in the head region. Bekko are grouped by the color of skin into Shiro (white) Bekko, a.k.a. (red) Bekko and Ki (yellow) Bekko,. Nowadays we seldom come across Ki Bekko, and a.k.a. Bekko don’t seem to win upper prizes at unless they have considerably high quality red and well balanced Sumi. Accordingly, we can reasonably assume the term “Bekko” is usually used to mean Shiro Bekko. Both Shiro Bekko and Shiro Utsuri have black and white markings only, and the white ground must be milky white so as to bring Sumi out into prominence. The white ground in the head region is especially liable to amber discoloration. Koi with jet-black markings on the milky white skin which covers the whole body look indescribably refined.
6.KOROMO Koromo are said to have been produced by crossing Kohaku with Asagi. Kohaku, Taisho Sanshoku and Showa Sanshoku which have indigo tinge over-laying the red patterns are called Ai-goromo (blue garment), Koromo Sanshoku, and Koromo Showa respectively. Crescent markings of Koromo usually show up on the scales of red patches. Koi with distinct, blue crescents arranged in an orderly manner are highly valued. High quality Koromo such as this are tastefully charming — the kind favored by Koi experts. The blue color of Koromo seem to gradually grow darker as the Koi grow older. Accordingly, the blue color of seemingly right tone in small Koi often becomes too dark when the Koi grow big, and the blue color showing right tone on big Koi, on the other hand, were in many cases overly light tone when the Koi were still small. This fact, therefore, should be taken into careful consideration when buying Koromo.
7.HIKARI-MUJI This category includes all Koi with shiny body but devoid of any markings. Hikari-muji are divided into “Yamabuki Ogon (with pure yellow, metallic sheen on the entire body),” “Platinum Ogon (with shining platinum color),” “Orange Ogon (with orange sheen),” “Kin Matsuba (literally ‘golden pine needles,’ for individual, glittering scales appearing like raised markings)”, and “Gin Matsuba (literally ‘silvery pine needles,’ for glittering scales on the platinum ground which look like raised markings),” etc. As they don’t have any markings, the condition of luster and body conformation become the essential points for appreciation of Hikari-muji group. Excellent luster is the one which covers the whole body evenly. Generally, Koi of Hikari-muji group readily get used to humans. With hearty appetite, they tend to grow over-sized bellies. However, good shape body, covering from the head to breast and abdomen.
8.HIKARI-UTSURI Hikari utsuri are Koi of Showa Utsurimono group (Showa Sanshoku, Shiro Utsuri, and Hi Utsuri, etc.) displaying “Hikari (luster or glitter),” and include “Kin Showa (with lustrous gold color),” “Gin Shiro Utsuri (with platinum sheen),” and “Kin Ki Utsuri (literally ‘golden yellow Utsuri’).” The point of appreciating this group is of course the intensity of the Hikari, the very characteristic of the Hikarimono group. Their markings are similar to those of Showa Sanshoku and Utsurimono group mentioned before. The tone of gold and Sumi is deeper, the better. However, there is an intricate aspect which we have to pay close attention. Both Hikari and Sumi pigment have a tendency to cancel each other — most Koi with strong Hikari have deep Sumi. Consequently, Koi having strong Hikari and firm Sumi at the same time are very rare.
9.HIKARI-MOYO Hikari-moyo comprise all shiny Koi excepting Hikari-muji and Hikari Utsuri mentioned before.. They include “Hariwake” with patterns of gold blended with platinum skin, “Yamato-nishiki (Japanese brocade)” with patterns of Taisho Sanshoku shining on platinum skin, and Kujaku Ogon (peacock gold)” with shiny Goshiki (five colors) patterns. Beside these three major kinds, there are also “Kinsui (literally ‘brocaded water,’ for shiny Shusui with lots of Hi)” and “Shochikubai (literally ‘pine, bamboo and plum,’ for shiny Ai-goromo with wave indigo patterns).” These are rarely seen today. Like in all other Kikarimono groups, strong Kikiari is essential. This is followed by bold patterns. The color patterns well-balanced on the entire body are desirable.
10.TANCHO Koi with a red head patch are called “Tancho.” Most common are “Tancho Kohaku (all-white Koi with Tancho),” “Tancho Sanshoku (white Koi with Sumi similar to Shiro Bekko, and with Tancho),” and “Tancho Showa (Showa Sanshoku without red markings except for Tancho),” etc. However, “Tancho Goshiki (Koi of five colors with Tancho),” and “Tancho Hariwake” are rare. Tancho do not form a single, independent kind of Nishikigoi; they all can be bred from Kohaku, Taisho Sankshoku or Showa Sanshoku. Their red patch happen to show up only in the head region. Tancho, therefore, can not be produced in bulk even if you so wish. The essential point for appreciation is the red patch in the head region, of course. The red head patch sitting right at the center of the head region is the best. The white skin is also important as it is the milky white color that sets the red head patch off to advantage. The Sumi of Tancho Sanshoku and Tancho Showa are the same as Bekko and Shiro Utsuri respectively.
11.KINGINRIN Koi with shiny golden or silvery scales are called “Kinginrin.” Shining white scales are referred to as “Ginrin,” and shining scales within red markings as “Kinrin.” Ginrin are further classified by their appearance into Tama (ge)-gin, Pearl-ginrin and Diamond-ginrin, etc. Diamond-ginrin shine most brilliantly among all Ginrin, and seem to appear distinctly all over the body. Kinginrin have been bred into almost all varieties of Nishikigoi. However, Kohaku, Taisho Sanshoku, Showa Sanshoku and Kikarimono, etc. with ginrin seem to rank high in viewing value, as may be expected. The point for appreciation is of course the intensity of ginrin’s glitter. Koi with distinct ginrin from the shoulder to the back are highly valued.
12.Doitsu(German) linage Doitsu lineage does not mean Nishikigoi bred in Germany, but rather those Crossbred with Japanese Koi and black carp imported originally for food from Germany. They differ from ordinary Nishikigoi (or “‘Wagoi’ meaning Japanese Koi) in scale arrangement. Doitsu Koi with lines of scales on the back and along the lateral lines are called “Kagami-goi (mirror carp),” and those without scales or with only one line of scales on each side along the base of the dorsal fin, “Kawas-goi (leather carp?).” Nowadays, Doitsu Koi are crossbred into almost all varieties of Nishikigoi. Doitsu Koi are to be viewed for the orderliness of scale arrangement and the absence of unnecessary scales. Each Koi should have the features characteristic of its own original variety, of course.
13.ASAGI Asagi are fairly classical from a genealogical point of view, and constitute a very tasteful variety. They usually have blue on the entire back and Hi on the belly, pectoral fins and gill covers. The scales on the back have whitish base and thus collectively give an appearance of meshes of a net. The important viewing points are conspicuously vivid appearance of the meshes and light blue, spotless head region. However, as they age, black spots often appear in the head region and Hi on the belly tend to climb up reaching as far as the back.
14.SHUSUI Shusui have been crossbred between Doitsu Koi and Asagi, and their points for appreciation, therefore, are basically the same as those for Asagi. Shusui also have the tendency to show black spots in the head region as they grow big. Koi with spotless head region are valued highly, of course. The arrangement of scales is also important. It is desirable that scales are visible only the back and the regions of lateral lines — no undesirable scales in any other place. Hi on the belly covering over the lateral lines are showy.
15.GOSHIKE Goshike are said to have been crossbred between Asagi and Taisho Sanshoku — not yet an established theory, however. They also form a very tasteful variety of Nishikigoi. Goshiki used to be included in the Kawarimono group. However, with recent production of fairly excellent Goshike, they are now being treated as an independent variety at Nishikigoi shows. Their red markings are similar in patterns to Kohaku, but may not be taken as seriously. Some scales of Asagi may also appear in the red markings. The meshes appearing only on the white ground will, on the other hand, contrast strikingly with mesh less Hi.
16.KAWARIMONO Koi not included in the fifteen varieties mentioned so far are grouped as “Kawarimono.” They are “Karasu-goi (crow carp, with coal black body),” “Hajiro (literally ‘white wings’ for crow carp whose pectoral fins are white at the tip),” “Kumonryu (German Koi of Hajiro strain with white head),” “Ki-goi (yellow carp),” “Cha-goi (brown carp).” “Matsuba (literally ‘pine needles),” and “Beni-goi (crimson carp),” etc. They have been produced only in samll numbers, and large-size Kavarimono are even fewer. They are appreciated above all by their originality or unconventionality. The rarer they are encountered even with active search, the higher is their value. So far I explained briefly the different viewing points for individual varieties of Nishikigoi. However, actual enjoyment of Nishikigoi should be free from fixed ideas or obsession. Even the most superb Koi surely has some minor flaws. Being enmeshed in such minor flows, we will fail to size up the real value of the Koi. Accordingly, the most important thing in judging a Koi is to place great importance on “the first impressions” gained by you the moment the Koi meets your eyes. It is also important to fully understand the koi’s qualities on the credit side.