The Language of Koi

Published on March 1, 2013

Murata Kohaku. She is an outstanding beauty. The five-step pattern, pure white shiroji, and very sharp kiwa all come together in one body. She is definitely future champion material.
Murata Kohaku. She is an outstanding beauty. The five-step pattern, pure white shiroji, and very sharp kiwa all come together in one body. She is definitely future champion material.

*A study of one of the most important koi varieties*

“It begins with Kohaku and ends with Kohaku.”

This famous proverb tells us how important the Kohaku variety of koi is in several ways. First, it tells us that Kohaku is the most popular and important variety of koi. This may be obvious since you always see Kohaku pictures on the cover of Japanese koi magazines. Kohaku is one of the Gosanke varieties, which include Kohaku, Taisho Sanke, and Showa. Kohaku is definitely a mainstream koi variety.

It also shows how hobbyists sometimes progress in the koi hobby. When they start their koi hobby, they usually start with Kohaku because it looks easy to understand and, as mentioned, seems to be the most popular variety. (This may not always be true in the U.S., but it is in Japan.) Then they try other fancier varieties like Showa, Ogon, and so forth. However, they come back to Kohaku because they now understand how much a simple, two-color koi can express elegant beauty. They learn the depth of Kohaku appreciation and become fond of it.
Most importantly, the proverb shows us the path of learning koi appreciation. Kohaku is the foundation of koi appreciation. Once you learn how to appreciate the beauty of Kohaku, you can apply the principles to the other varieties.

Regarding Kohaku appreciation, you may want to check at least the following traits of your Kohaku koi:

• Quality
• Pattern
• Breeder


Quality could mean many things, but in this article I will discuss skin quality. To assess a Kohaku’s skin quality, check its:

1. *Shiroji*
2. *Beni*
3. *Kiwa*

*Shiroji* means “white ground” in Japanese, and it refers to a koi’s white color. *Shiroji* is more important than hi (the red color). If *shiroji* of a koi is not good, hi will not stand out beautifully. For *shiroji*, discerning enthusiasts like to see snow-like white.

As for *beni* (or *hi*), please make sure there is no discoloration. Consistency is very important. The ideal *beni* color is like the red of a ripened persimmon.

*Kiwa* means the edges or borders of the pattern. Please check to see if a koi’s *kiwa* is sharp. If *kiwa* is not sharp, the koi will not look as beautiful. Poor *kiwa* also indicates poor quality of skin.

Since Kohaku is such a simple koi, the balance of red and white is very important. Hi needs to begin with the head, step to the body, and stop at the tail. The stop at the tail is called *odome*. How the *hi* stops there is very critical. The most appealing hi ratio for Kohaku is between 3:5 (white:red) and 5:5. A stepped pattern is more preferred than a less stepped pattern, such as a single *hi* pattern. A round spot on the head is always the most popular.

The breeder is critical, especially in the Kohaku variety. Because koi grow, it is important to estimate the future potential of a koi when you try to buy one, and knowledge of the breeders is probably the biggest clue. The reason that knowing who the breeder is, is more critical in Kohaku than in other varieties is because Kohaku is, in a sense, the most advanced variety. The fact that a Kohaku comes from Japan is no longer enough. Even in Japan, the level of the bloodlines varies so much from farm to farm that it is essential to know the breeder.

Selling Kohaku, especially Kohaku of higher quality, may not be as easy as selling other varieties. Because the Kohaku variety is so simple, you need to have deeper understanding of the quality, pattern, and bloodlines. And you need to be able to explain them to your clients. I would definitely suggest that you raise several nicer Kohaku from different bloodlines by yourself. No study is better than raising them yourself. The experience will help you understand the bloodline better and explain it better.

There are many famous Kohaku breeders, but there are a few that it would be beneficial to know: Dainichi Koi Farm, Hoshikin Koi Farm, Maruboshi Koi Farm, Murata Koi Farm, and Urakawa Koi Farm. I recommend that you read * *“Koishi”* by Mamoru Kodama to study these bloodlines.

Lastly, I would like to mention why the Japanese like Kohaku so much. Kohaku, the color combination in general, has a special meaning. In Japan, you will see the combination of red and white at several occasions. For example, you will see red/white drop curtains and decorations at the entrance of schools. At a wedding ceremony, we have red/white rice cakes. The red/white combination is a symbol of celebration. I must say that it is the favorite color combination of the Japanese people. Even the national flag is red and white. Why is Kohaku so popular in Japan? Now you see why.

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