Language of Koi – Showa

Published on May 29, 2009

Language Showa 1

As a breeder of many different varieties of koi, the variety I enjoy the most is Showa. My goal of making a high class, jumbo, female grand champion from any of the pairings we do at our farm each year, applies to any and all varieties. The challenge with Showa is that I find it one of the most difficult of the varieties in achieving that goal.

Regarding the pattern of the Showa, it comprises of three colors: black, red and white. The odds of achieving a perfect koi decrease as the number of colors in the pattern increase. This also applies to Sanke, which was covered by Brady Brandwood in the Mar/Apr 2009 issue. The biggest difference between Sanke and Showa, as both have the same colors, is that the sumi (black) of Showa plays a more dominant role in the pattern.

Brady described Sanke Sumi as small circles or patches; in contrast, Showa Sumi tends to be larger stripes or blocks of black running top to bottom and front to back of the whole koi. The amount of true black displayed can change continuously through a Showa’s life. Part of my attraction to the variety is this phenomenon.

Sumi can emerge and sink away with pond water temperature and chemistry changes, as well as age. Sumi takes on blue grey mottled appearance as it changes its visual state. Sunken grey sumi can give indicators of future beautiful pattern, and occasionally areas on the koi where there are no signs of any grey at all can suddenly transform and sumi can emerge to complete the koi.

When baby Showa are just three days old the fry are distinctly two different colors. One type is very light yellow and the other type is grey. We only raise the grey type to make Showa. This is often where you may hear that the Showa is black-based variety as opposed to Sanke where the fry are typically yellow/white at the same age. Sanke is also known as white-based fish. In my opinion it doesn’t pay to dwell on the black based /white based theory other than for the three day cull.

The biggest argument in the appreciation of Showa is the balance of the amounts of the three colors comprising the whole pattern. Over any of the varieties it can be the most contentious issue for judging them. Judges and customers tastes vary widely. The Kindai or modern type favors less red and thinner sumi markings thus showing more of the white canvas leading to modern, artistic looking pattern. The traditional old style type of Showa favors a heavier blocky sumi pattern over larger red patches often masking much of the white skin. These pattern types can be regarded as extremes in terms of color balance and many Showa fall in between. Some say the perfect Showa is a third white, a third red and a third black with all three colors shown on the head. This may be true; however, I have seen some excellent Showa over the years that don’t conform to these criteria.

Most customers buy small inexpensive Showa that are beautiful on the day of purchase and display a bright hard vivid red that contrasts well with emerged black and porcelain white. This is the ready-for-show look and while satisfying in the short-term can often lead to medium-term disappointment. The reason for the dissatisfaction is that like any koi with red pattern, the harder the look of the red when purchased the closer it is to its peak. Unlike sumi that comes up and down, the red part of the pattern changes through life from soft blurred edge patches to hard crisp edge patches. After peaking in intensity, red frequently permanently disappears or deteriorates becoming blotchy.

Don’t be confused with color tone. We use the word red loosely as its can be tonally different from a light orange to a purple red. All are acceptable. The most important factor is that it is thickly layered and has a soft appearance. Finding koi with soft thick red are rare and are amongst the select few we call tategoi (koi that may improve). Usually young tategoi are rarely beautiful, but discerning customers are willing to gamble larger amounts of money on young Showa as it is the variety than can make a beautiful swan from an ugly duckling.

As we have stated, changing pattern has an influence on the beauty of a Showa, and at any point in time and can sometimes affect the purchase price, especially in young Showa. As any koi matures and grows larger, quality aspects play a much bigger role in the pricing. Until recently the quality of the black on Showa had been lacking. Showa Sumi can display in totally different grades when emerged. The lowest quality appears to be semi-transparent, like charcoal rubbings on paper with red pattern showing through fully emerged sumi. Medium quality sumi is dense but lack luster. The newest type of sumi to be found on Showa is the highest quality–it has deep gloss like wet black ink and is completely opaque. This type of sumi is the basis of the parent koi I use to make our Showa in New Jersey.

So when you or your customers are searching for your perfect Showa, bear in mind that the fun is in the gamble in this variety, with the random chance of sumi emerging at the same time as the red peaking to form a beautifully finished dynamic looking koi. Encourage your customers to buy a few different styles so that they can learn how varied and exciting raising Showa can be.

Showa’s cousin | Utsuri

Showa, and cousin variety Utsuri, change more dramatically as they mature than any other variety in koi. For this reason, to sell young Showa and Utsuri, a dealer would be well advised to have mature koi on display as well. This will help sell the babies, as people can visualize the possibilities more clearly. Photos nearby will help as well, of course. Those who cannot afford a mature koi, can buy tosai, (one year olds) and watch them grow and change.

About the Author

Mat McCann has kept koi from the age of seven. When Mat was 16, he was asked to spend a weekend babysitting a koi dealership that was managed by a friend of the family. Mat loved working in the store, and he started working for them every weekend while he was in high school. Because of his love for koi, Mat went into the Aquaculture program when he was accepted at Liverpool University. Long story short, Mat came to the U.S., at the request of Joe Zuritsky, for a two-day visit and decided to take the job at Quality Koi. He moved to America in July 2000. Mat now leads the team, with Ross Morgan, at Nisei Koi Farm.

Email:, 104 East Quillytown Rd
Carneys Point, NJ 08069
Tel: 856 299 7564

Kloubec Koi Farm

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