Language of Koi | Understanding Kohaku Patterns

A closer look at the popular red-and-white koi

In this article, you will learn about identifying the ever-popular Kohaku patterns. Both body and head patterns will be discussed. Armed with this knowledge, you can help your aquatic customers discern between the different patterns and select a fish that they desire to purchase.

Kohaku is one of the most popular varieties of koi. Often times, it is the first koi fish that a novice hobbyist recognizes and can correctly identify by its Japanese variety name.

Kohaku is a two-colored koi: a non-metallic, white based koi with a red pattern. It sounds simple enough, but is it really?

Kohaku Pattern Basics

Kohaku patterns represent the standard by which all koi patterns are compared. Therefore, much emphasis is placed on them. There are two types: continuous patterns and step patterns. Each has specific guidelines, and both are judged with strict rules, respectively.

On Kohaku, pattern refers to reddish-orange patches of color called hi plates. The hi plates lie on the koi’s white base color. The pattern should begin on the koi’s head and end on the caudal peduncle, the narrow area right before the tail fin.

Balance and symmetry — front-to-back and side-to-side — are of utmost importance. Each aspect weighs heavily in the evaluation of the pattern. Ideally, the hi plates should be nicely arranged over the entire length of the koi. The pattern should not be concentrated on the front half of the body, nor should it be concentrated on the latter portion. Likewise, the pattern should not appear on just one side of the spine, as this would cause the pattern to appear off balance or lopsided.

Ideally, hi plates should be positioned high on the fish’s back and head. They should not spread below the lateral line on the koi’s sides. Whenever the pattern reaches down to or slightly below the lateral line, it’s called pattern wrap.

Overall size is an important feature of Kohaku pattern appreciation, too. A substantial pattern creates a bold or strong impression. A big fish with a small pattern, or insignificant hi markings, will not be as highly regarded as one with large and well-balanced hi plates. In general, pronounced hi patches are preferred on Kohaku.

Continuous Patterns

A continuous pattern is one that forms a solid stripe of hi running from head to tail. It has no breaks or visible separation of the hi plate. Often times, the hi will cover most of the head and body. This type of pattern is commonly referred to as straight hi.

Interesting characteristics, such as wavy edges, are preferred on continuous head-to-tail patterns. This adds interest to an otherwise lackluster pattern. Patterns with this feature may be called flowery.

To give a few examples, Ippon hi is a solid, straight line, continuous pattern. It is a nondescript hi plate that runs from head to tail with no breaks or variation. Inazuma is a continuous pattern running from head to tail that forms an unbroken zigzag design along the back of the koi. This irregular movement of the hi provides the pattern with some visual interest. The word inazuma literally means “lightning strike” in Japanese.

Step Patterns

Step patterns describe or count the number of hi plates that appear on the koi. Each step of hi is counted, beginning on the head or face. The white base color of the koi’s body is visible between the hi plates.

  • Tancho is a Kohaku pattern with one patch of hi, exclusively on the head.
  • Nidan is a Kohaku pattern with two steps of hi
  • Sandan is a Kohaku pattern with three steps of hi.
  • Yondan is a Kohaku pattern with four steps of hi.
  • Maruten is a Kohaku pattern that has one lone hi marking on the head, which is comparable to a Tancho, but has additional hi markings elsewhere on the body.

When reviewing Kohaku patterns, pay close attention to the balance and symmetry of the markings. Evaluate the hi patches for location, size and shape. There are many Kohaku that do not fall into these precise pattern descriptions. Body shape, intensity and consistency of color, skin quality and overall health are also important qualities to evaluate. Pattern is only one aspect of a good Kohaku.

Kohaku Head Patterns

Many times, a Kohaku will be referred to by its pattern type or head pattern type. A Kohaku with a distinguishing head pattern that conforms to traditional standards can have a significant value. Knowing how to identify each type will empower you to help your customers find the fish they’ve been looking for — and make a sale!

The head pattern on Kohaku is of major importance. It should begin on the head or face. Head patterns have a significant impact on the overall visual appearance of the koi.

There are several conventional Kohaku head patterns. Each one has specific guidelines such as size, symmetry and placement.

Nontraditional head patterns such as asymmetrical, flowery-shaped, banded and hooked patterns are gaining more acceptance. These unconventional head patterns are thought of by many as distinctive and charming, adding an element of unexpected interest to Kohaku patterns. They serve as a refreshing alternative to the customary, stringent and time-honored Kohaku head patterns.

Correctly identifying Kohaku by the pattern type or head pattern will boost your confidence as a koi retailer and the confidence of your aquatic department staff. Remember, though — the most important thing to consider when assessing any koi is how much your customer likes it, not necessarily how well it conforms to set standards.

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