Language of Koi: A Beautiful Accident

Published on November 6, 2014

1411koispreadrev1Tancho is not always a winner at koi shows. In fact, some koi shows do not even have a Tancho category. But it is not too much exaggeration to say that Tancho is one of the most popular varieties of koi. To be precise, Tancho is not really a fixed variety like the others. Rather, Tancho is a type of pattern, and this pattern could occur in any koi variety with red coloring.

Tancho is a koi whose only Hi (or red coloring) is a circle on its head. There should not be any other red pattern on the rest of the body. If a koi has a circle spot on its head like Tancho and still has some Hi pattern on the body, then the circle is not called Tancho, but “Maruten.” This may be confusing … indeed, I sometimes hear even dealers misuse the term, so it is important to understand the difference between Tancho and Maruten.

Koi like a Bird

Tancho Crane.
Tancho Crane.

Have you heard of the Tancho crane (also known as the Japanese crane)? She is a large, East Asian crane that lives in the northern part of Japan. She is very unique, as she has a red spot on her head. The “Tan” in Tancho means “red,” and the “Cho” in Tancho means “top.” So you can imagine why, when breeders found a variety of koi with a red, round spot on its head, it reminded them of the Tancho crane. That is how the Tancho koi variety got its name.

As I said, Tancho is not a fixed variety. It is more like a certain patterned koi. Thus, the Tancho pattern can be found in many varieties: Tancho Kohaku, Tancho Showa, Tancho Sanke, Tancho Kujyaku, Tancho Goshiki and more.

When appreciating Tancho, we need to pay attention to two important traits: the shape of the Tancho (red spot) and the excellence of the base variety.

The Shape of the Tancho

Needless to say, when it comes to Tancho, the shape of the actual “Tancho” (the red circle) is the life of the koi. Within the space of the eyes, nostrils and shoulder (before the scales begin), the circle needs to be as round and big as possible.

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Rather than a variety, Tancho is more like a byproduct of each variety. For example, Tancho Kohaku comes out by accident from breeding Kohaku. This is not something you can plan. Therefore, finding a decent Tancho is very hard. Finding a perfect one is almost impossible. However, the closer the shape of the circle is to the ideal shape, the better.

Excellence of the Base Variety

Again, Tancho is a certain pattern that can appear on any variety, but the quality of the base variety is very important. For example, Kohaku is a red and white koi. Its red is only on the head. The body is white only. The quality of Shiroji, or white, is very critical. In the case of Tancho Showa, not to mention the importance of quality Sumi and Shiroji, its Sumi pattern plays a big role. The dynamic Sumi pattern needs to develop on its face and body.

Picking a Tancho

Because many varieties can have a Tancho version, it is sometimes a very difficult task to judge which one is better to buy. At koi shows, if the quality of two Tancho is similar, the vote usually goes to the rarer one. For example, between Tancho Kohaku and Tancho Showa, Tancho Showa will win because it is harder to breed and find a nice one.

When I started the business almost 20 years ago, I was taught that among Tancho Kohaku, Tancho Sanke and Tancho Showa, Tancho Showa always wins because it is much harder to find than the other two. However, in recent years, as Showa has become more popular, more breeders now breed Showa. Thus, the chance of finding Tancho Showa has increased. Nowadays, if the same question should arise, I must say that Tancho Sanke should be selected to win because it has the least production and Tancho Sanke is much harder to find.

Selling Tancho

Tanke Sancho.
Tanke Sancho.

Marketing Tancho should be easy, as everybody wants at least one Tancho in a pond. But I found out that many people ask for a perfect circle because they see pictures of show-winning Tancho in magazines or on the Internet. Of course, there are a small number of perfect ones, so if you find one that’s perfect, it will be very expensive. I think it is important to educate your clients that Tancho is not its own variety, but rather an unexpected byproduct of the varieties. Clients must understand that even a misshapen Tancho has real value.

There are no specific breeders for Tancho. So to find them, I visit as many breeders as possible as often as possible, hoping I am lucky enough to find one before others do. If you do the same, you have a chance to own a truly remarkable and valuable koi.

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