Types of Koi Carp

Written by dominic sutton
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Types of Koi Carp
Koi brighten up any garden pond. (Art Wolfe/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Koi fish, or Nishikigoi, as they are called in Japan, are the product of several centuries of selective breeding of different varieties of carp. In the early 19th century, this breeding process began to produce spectacular colour mutations. Today, breeders recognise many different types of koi, and selective breeding continues to provide new varieties. Because of the ever-growing colour variations, providing an exact answer as to how many different kinds of koi exist is difficult. In competitive koi competitions, however, koi are generally divided into 13 categories.


Kohaku are the most popular variety of koi in Japan, and they are a common choice of fish among those who are taking their first steps in koi collecting. They are white with red markings, and the greater the depth of red and the more uniform the shade, the higher the fish is prized. Koi enthusiasts have a saying: "The hobbyist begins with Kohaku and ends with Kohaku."

Sanke and Showa

The Sanke has red and black markings on a white background. As with Kohaku the depth of the colours are important. To qualify as Sanke, the fish must have a red marking on its head, but no black marking. The body should have large red markings and an even distribution of smaller black patches.

Showa are easily confused with Sanke by inexperienced koi collectors. Like the Sanke, Showa are three-colored koi, but the black areas are larger, covering a wider area of the body, including the head. Normally, a solid area of black appears at the base of the pectoral fins with some black stripes on the tail.

Bekko and Utsurimono

Bekko are white koi with small black patterns on their body. Sub-varieties of Bekko have a base colour of red or yellow, but as with the white variety, they are distinguished by the black pattern.

Utsurimono are black koi with white markings. While some varieties exhibit red or yellow markings, black is always the base colour, and, unlike the Bekko, it wraps around the body.

Asagi and Shusui

Asagi often lack the bright colouration of koi varieties. They are mainly grey/blue above the lateral line and have red or orange bellies. Good examples have a delicate pattern of coloured scales running symmetrically along the back. Asagi are one of the oldest coloured carp, and while their colours may not be as vivid as some other koi, a good specimen has a simple beauty about it.

The Shusui is another early breed of koi, and, like the Asagi, it is not as brightly coloured as some later varieties. It has the same colours as the Asagi, but less scalation. Typically, the Shusui has only four lines of scales -- two along the dorsal line and one along each lateral line.


Koromo are similar in pattern to Kohaku but also display characteristics associated with the Asagi. Koromo means "robed," and these fish are robed in well-defined scales.


Ogon are single colour koi. Their bodies have a metallic-looking quality that makes them stand out from other varieties. They appear in various colours, ranging from bright silver through to deep gold.

Hikari-moyomono and Hikari-utsurimono

Like the Ogon, the Hikari are metallic-looking koi. Unlike the single colour Ogon, though, Hikari-moyomono exhibit two colours, while Hikari-utsurimono are three-colored koi.


"Kin" means "gold," and "gin" means "silver." Koi in this class usually have a base similar to the Kohaku, Sanke or Showa, but they will have shiny silver or gold scales overlaying the base colour. To be qualified for this class, they must have at least two full rows of the kin rin or gin rin.


Tancho have a distinctive circular red marking on the head. To be classified as Tancho, a koi must not have any other red markings elsewhere on its body. The more perfect the circle, the more prized a Tancho is by koi enthusiasts.

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