We all know a pretty pattern when we see it. And most of us can easily pick out the grand champion of a koi show. But very few people can explain skin in a way that the average hobbyist can understand it.
For most of my customers and friends, have heard me talk of fukurin, shiroji, beni, and luster. But all these things are nothing without the quality skin. Let’s look at koi as what they truly are: living paintings. Imagine I paint a picture with flat paint. It’s a nice picture but doesn’t do anything for you. Now let me paint the same picture and use gloss paint, and make the paint thicker to help accent colors, vivid colors that have depth and seem to jump off the canvas. That is the difference skin makes.
People who know me know that I am very shy at first. I am very quiet and let people talk. Once you know me though, I can’t stop talking. How this has helped me is that when I go to koi shows I hear a lot of talk about koi, but many never bring up the skin quality. Why? Were they never taught about it? Were they told it doesn’t matter? I have over the years spoken to many people about the importance of skin quality in high-class koi. Some koi judges and hobbyists are starting to listen. I see judging at koi shows getting better because of the influence of the American dealers bringing in better koi, and the breeders helping educate the customer.
So, how do I teach you skin quality in one short article?
3-D… that’s right, you heard it here first. It took me years to figure it out. I was in the movies with my kids watching a 3D cartoon 2 years ago when it hit me…. all the colors look like they are on separate levels. On a great Sanke the shiroji (white background) is at the first level, the beni (red) is at the next level, and the sumi (black) is at the top level. When you start looking for high-class skin, you can eliminate 99% of the koi you will be looking at. About 1% of koi possess this awesome trait. There is an American hobbyist who is doing some great background research on this. I am happy to call him my friend, Phillip Gray. Phillip last year went to Japan in search of skin quality and why it is so important.
He did awesome interviews on how it develops, and the importance the breeders put on it.
Broken beni and skin quality: Earlier this year an advanced hobbyist received a shipment of very high class tategoi tosai (great potential one season old koi). He called to announce that the koi’s beni was “Breaking Down.” He read somewhere and saw Online that when there is white in between the scales of red, it means the red is breaking and fading away. After many calming phone calls and me taking the breeder to see the guy, we left it as a “wait and see” thing. Well here we are six months later and the koi are not breaking down anymore. You see what happened was that the koi were outgrowing their beni! They were growing so fast that the beni could not catch up. Good skin helps correct this and condensed the beni on the koi and made it strong looking again.
The other thing skin quality will do is cover blemishes. I have seen many koi with a little niban hi (secondary red that comes up on a scale where you don’t want it) and the breeders don’t worry because the shiroji will actually thicken to cover it. This applies to the leading edge on beni (the sashi) as well. When a koi is young, the leading edge will be faded red, which is ok as the koi skin matures, and it will thicken and cover the pinkish leading edge.
Take a look at the pictures in this article as examples of quality skin.