Understanding Sanke

Published on March 16, 2009


Lotus Land Koi Farm www.lotuslandkoifarm.com

The three colored koi the early Japanese breeders named ‘Sanke’ many years ago is a fascinating and difficult fish. Exceptional examples of this fish are hard to come by, and because of this can be quite expensive, when a good example comes along.

The Sanke is a white-based koi with a red (hi) pattern, and black accents enhancing this red pattern, adding balance and elegance. The Judging standards for Sanke request that a show worthy fish have a solid high quality hi plate, or red pattern, with an even coloration throughout the red patterning, and sharp edging separating red from white.

The red patterning should ideally begin just below the eyes on the Sanke’s face, and end before the tail begins, leaving a white nose and a small patch, or ‘stop’ of white just before the tail.

The sumi, or black patterning on Sanke should add, accent, or compliment the red patterning, rather than distract from it. Ideally there should be no sumi or black on the Sanke’s face. The black patterning, generally small circles or patches of black, should begin on the shoulder and meander back toward the tail. Ideal sumi placement would be in the white areas on the Sanke’s back, filling in and adding balance to the overall ‘look’ of the koi when viewed from above. That is ideal… and hard to come by. Generally though the sumi, or black patterning will fall in the red areas, which is fine, but regardless of where the sumi falls it should enhance the koi and add balance, rather than distract from the overall artistic look.

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A Sanke whose colors are mature will also often have a single black stripe or two in the pectoral fins, and possibly a stripe or two in the tail fin. More than 2 stripes in a peck fin becomes busy and distracting, which if excessive can reduce the visual appeal, and in turn reduce the value of the Sanke.

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Given this description of an ‘ideal’ Sanke, we can see why it’s so difficult to find exceptional examples. So many elements have to fall in the right places, and a lot of this is determined by luck of the draw, rather than genetic codes. A large part of what makes a koi ‘valuable’ is the rarity factor, or how unique it is, within the Judging standards, and since koi don’t breed so true, a breeder has very little control of the ratios of koi within a spawn that will meet the strict Judging standards. This is why there is such a wide range of prices for koi, and why a few very exceptional koi can command very high prices. An exceptional Sanke is rare, and hard to come by.

Obviously a client has to understand what they’re buying to appreciate a given koi’s price. Some clients will be willing to purchase a ‘higher quality’ koi IF they can be shown what it is that makes the koi exceptional. With koi it’s often very subtle details that separate an exceptional show koi from an average pond grade koi. Add to this the fact that most all koi blossom as they mature, like a flower bud that shows us its true beauty only after it has matured. This is a large part of the mystique of koi, and what keeps so many of us fascinated with koi keeping. Here are a few photo examples of Sanke, with comparisons of the Retail Prices I as the breeder and seller would place on them.

The five Sanke in this bowl are all the same age, 18 months old, around 16˝, and all male. I would rate them all relatively close in retail value… about $600 each.

There are two Sanke in this group that I would rate higher, and place a slightly higher price tag on – the one in the center of the bowl, and the one just below it at 6 o’clock in the bowl. These two rate a little higher in overall quality, and future potential, based on the features and Judging standards we discussed earlier. You’ll notice that the colors are a little muted on these five Sanke, in particular the black. These are all still young, and still blossoming. One of the characteristics of a high quality koi is that they blossom slowly over a few years, rather than quickly.

These two Sanke both show good sumi placement, or placement of the black patterning from shoulder to tail, having the black primarily on the white, and adding balance and elegance to the overall look of the fish. The black stands out better on the white than on the red, and also when the black is on the red it has to fight with the red to show itself strongly. The placement of the black on these two Sanke to me is ideal, but is difficult to accomplish.

This young male Sanke is a great example of a flashy and attractive koi that sells well, and shows well also. The colors are bright and glossy, and the patterning, or layout of colors is attractive. I would place a value on this koi of around $400. The client will appreciate the beauty of this koi, and can see what they’re getting. This type of young koi always sells well, and the price should be in line so that it is an all around crowd pleaser. Its day of beauty is today. Since koi are organic living pieces of art, and not ceramic pieces of art, we have to accept that they will not maintain their beauty forever. A flashy young koi like this one, will have a shorter window of beauty than a koi that is developing its coloration, or blossoming, more slowly. Longevity of beauty is value in koi; this should be reflected in the price also, in my opinion.

Higher-level females such as these two Sanke are desired by high-level koi collectors. Koi such as these generally start in the $2000 price range, and go up. The body shape is exceptional, they are capable of growing to over 30˝, and are able to maintain youthful vibrant coloration and skin luster at that size. In photos it’s difficult to see what makes these large girls so outstanding, in person though they have a presence that draws the eye, and a quality that keeps us looking. These are the type of Sanke that our customers all dream of owning, which is why it’s nice to have a few of these around. They give your customers something to aspire to, or dream about.

About the Author

Brady Brandwood began Lotus Land Koi Farm in 1997, a 10 acre facility in Marshville, NC. He breeds Gosanke primarily, Kohaku, Showa, Sanke, but also produces Yamabuki Ogon, Chagoi, Kujaku, and Hariwake.


Brady has become one of the most respected Koi breeders outside of Japan, with an incredible list of Koi Show wins including Mature Champion, Adult Champion, Young Grand Champions, Baby Grand Champions, 22 Best In Size trophies, 14 Best In Variety trophies, several Best Male, Tategoi Awards, and other awards.


Brady breeds for quality, not volume sales, and specializes in the very best Show Koi, works of living art. Lotus Land Koi Farm is an isolated, biosecure facility, which doesn’t import Koi from other countries or other brokers or breeders.


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