The Amazing Realm of Japanese Koi
by Sheridan Henson, Aquarium Staff
With photos and information courtesy of Pan Intercorp, Home of the Champions
Are you new to the water gardening hobby? Do you own Japanese Koi but have no idea to which category they belong? Look no further, Aquarians! The history and nomenclature of Koi is almost as colorful and entertaining as the fish. Familiarity with Koi history and Koi culture creates a special appreciation for the beauty and elegance of Koi breeding.
Although the exact origins of Koi are unknown, theories point to ancient Persia, the Black, Caspian, and Aral Seas, and China. The common carp came in shades of brown and were traded among countries as a staple food. Carp was an excellent source of protein, leading the rural farmers of Japan to breed and stock Carp for use in the long winter months. When the carp reached six inches, They were harvested and salted for storage. In the mid-1800’s, some of the farmers in the Niigata Prefecture noticed some of the carp developed blotches of red and white on their scales. Soon, these carp were selectively bred, bringing out amazing colors and patterns, leading to the modern red and white style in the 1870’s. Their new name Nishikigoi was comprised of two words, “Nishiki” meaning brocaded or colorful, and Goiro Koi meaning “Carp.”
Japanese Koi are organized into 18 basic groups. These groups cover a broad range of variation, especially due to the 100’s of varied patterns possible through breeding. They also exclude “domestic” koi, those being koi bred in outside of Japan. One of the most popular domestic koi is the butterfly koi; a cross developed by breeding hardier long-fin Indonesian Carp with Koi.
The beginning and ending of all Koi keeping is the Kohaku. This koi has the distinct red against white contrasting pattern. Kohaku possess a bright and evenly colored beni (red), the crispness of the kiwa (edges of the red pattern), and the fresh-fallen snow white color of the background. Kohaku come in thousands of varied patterns, but some of the more recognized patterns are as follows:
Tancho: Single, red, crown-like marking in the head’s center.
Ohmoyo: Any single, large, unbroken pattern extending from head to tail.
Nidan: A two step pattern.
Sandan: The most popular, a three step pattern. (Yondan= 4 step, Godan= 5 step)
Kuchibeni: Translated as “Lipstick” indicating red on the mouth.