It’s truly remarkable that the common carp, Cyprinus Carpio, has been transformed into some of the most beautiful living art treasures in the world.
According to “Manual to Nishikigoi,” a book by Dr. Takeo Kuroki, the word “Koi” was first used about 2,500 years ago in China, and was the name given to a carp presented to Confucius’ son (who was born in 533 BC). It appears that coloured carp originated in China between AD 700 and AD 1000 and were probably natural mutations of carp that featured patches of colour on them. By the year AD 1500, specimens had been exported to Japan.
By AD 1800, in the region of Niigata prefecture in Japan, rice farmers were breeding carp as a food source but somewhere between the 1820s and 1830s, they began to breed some of the carp for aesthetic appeal. Thus, being the first to take the naturally occurring mutations and develop them further, the Japanese are now generally recognized as the creators of Nishikigoi (Living Jewels).
In 1914 the mayor of Higashiyama Mura sent 27 Koi to the Tokyo exhibition in an attempt to help alleviate economic poverty in Niigata by creating commercial interest in the fish. The collection of Koi were awarded second prize for exhibits at the show and afterwards eight Koi were presented to the son of the Japanese Emperor. It is said that this launched the flourishing Koi industry that we know today. Koi were introduced to South Africa in the 1970s.
The 15 varieties of Koi
The fifteen varieties are groupings defined by ZNA, the Japan-based international promoter of Koi-keeping. There may in the future be additional varieties or sub-varieties that will be recognised.
This is a white fish with red (hi) markings. The red markings should be distributed to create a balanced pattern. The white should be pure and a white gap of about 2 cm between the last hi marking on the peduncle and the start of the tail fin is appreciated. This is called ojime. There are different patterns in the Kohaku. The stepped patterns may be nidan (two-step), sandan (three-step) and yondan (four-step).
This is a tricolour Koi with red (hi) and black (sumi) markings distributed as a pattern across its body. The sanke is one of the most difficult Koi to breed. Only a small percentage of each spawning will produce the desired balance of tricolour. The black must appear like Japanese lacquer: fine and uniform in shade, with depth and overall lustre. Tejima are appreciated – these are short sumi stripes in the pectoral fins.
The Showa is a black fish with markings of white and red (hi). A distinct feature by which a showa can be distinguished is a sumi marking on the head. White markings that are not too large are preferred. The presence of motoguro is appreciated – motoguro is a roundish sumi marking at the base of the pectoral fins.
This is a black Koi with white, yellow or red markings. The black background is usually represented as the bolder pattern. Deep, shiny, blue-black sumi with a reflective pattern and motoguro in the fins is appreciated.
This is a member of the sanke family, but it is considered a variety on its own. A Bekko is a white, red or yellow Koi with small sumi markings. The pattern is simple yet elegant -looking like stepping stones running along the length of the body.
This Koi has shadings of colour, a light and dark blue back and red abdomen, cheeks and fins. The scales should be perfectly aligned to create an appearance of netting. The head colouring may range from white to paler blue and there are no scales on the head.
This is the doitsu (no scales) version of the Asagi. The Shusui was created in 1910 when an Asagi Sanke was bred to a doitsu Koi. The characteristic feature of the Shusui is the line of scales along the dorsal line. This line is partially separated by the dorsal fin into two rows of scales. The rest of the body is without scales. The head ought to be virtually white and the blue must run evenly from the back to the tail fin and from the dorsal line to just below the lateral line. The hi (red markings) must be deep and confined to the chin, the cheeks, the abdomen and the base of the fins.
The Koromo is the result of breeding Kohaku to Asagi, Asagi to Sanke and Showa to Asagi. Most favoured points in the Koromo are: A white ground without blemish, clean fins, bold colour markings, a smallish off centre head marking in a Ai-goromo and the absence of a head marking in Budo goromo.
The Goshiki is a five-coloured fish: white, red, black, light blue and dark blue. The Goshiki appeared around 1917 and its most favoured points are: white pectoral fins, even robing of the scales and a white dorsal fin. The ground colour must show up the hi markings.
These are the non-metallic varieties, some of the popular ones are: Hajiro which has a black body with white tips to the fins, Oshiba Shigure which means ‘autumn leaves floating on water’ and the Kumonryu.
This refers to single coloured metallic Koi, and is a very popular variety. They appeal to the new Koi collector due to their metallic lustre while experienced Koi keepers value the size they achieve.
This is a Koi that has a red hi marking on the head. The are different shapes that are acceptable are: round, square, oval, diamond, heart and cross. The most sought after marking is a perfect round marking that does not touch or extend over the eyes, lips, cheeks or shoulder.
All of the varieties can be bred to have this gorgeous sparkling scalation. The scalation is called kinginrin or ginrin.
Moyo is the Japanese word for ‘pattern’. This group accommodates all Koi with two or more metallic colours, excluding those that come from the Utsuri (black) lineages. The Hariwake and the Kujaku are very popular Koi from this group.
The Hikari Utsurimono results from cross-breeding Ogon and Showa or Ogon and Utsurimono to produce metallic Showa and metallic Utsuri.