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Third in the series and Pam's personal favorite -

Koi Varieties


by Pam Spindola, California USA
Click images to enlarge

Showa entries in the ZNA Koi Show 2008 >


The showa (show-wa) is one of the three most popular varieties of koi; the others are the kohaku and sanke. This variety has several names: the showa sanke or showa sanshoku. Bold and powerful describe this tri-colored koi in black, red, white. Originally thought to be a black grounded koi with red and white patches, this description is changing as new bloodlines are developed with varying proportions of the three colors.

A more graceful showa pattern has emerged, kindai showa, which has a more predominate white background. In spite of these changing proportions, the standards for a showa seem to remain constant. The three colors, black (sumi), red ( hi), and the white (shiro) must be clear, thick, and of even intensity throughout the body, with the luster almost of wet paint.  

The showa began its development in the 1920s by crossing a kohaku, white koi with red patches, with a ki utsuri, a black koi with yellow stripes. Over the years, the development has been refined and we now have many beautiful examples of showa. The showa has hi (red) patches distributed throughout the top and sides of the body similar to that of a kohaku. In this case, the hi can extend to the nose, cheeks, and jawline. The hi should be intense and thick, the same quality as prized in a kohaku.

Kindai showa – Very
nice conformation.
The sumi pattern on
the shiroji background
in the middle of the
body is noteworthy.

Showa sanshoku - Notice the
motoguro fins, straplike black
patches throughout body, stripes in tail, balance of the three colors.

The next color is the black, which is the most eye-catching and impressive. This sumi is what gives the showa its appearance of energy. The sumi should be thick and ink black; it is sometimes shiny like patent leather, and at other times, soft and velvet-like depending on the bloodlines. Many times, the broad patches of black resemble Japanese ink paintings.

Generally, it has been said that a basic showa should have 20 to more than 30% black color. One of the earlier lines of showa, produced in the 1940s by Mr. Tomiji Kobayashi and still seen today, features more than 30% sumi -- a very dramatic koi creating an impression of power and strength.  

The third color, white or shiroji (she-ro gee) should run throughout the body and head, comprising about 30% of the total skin area. It should be bright and clean with no yellow or blue cast. However, in younger koi, sometimes developing white does have a blue or grey shadow. It is especially nice to have a little white on the cheeks and just before the tail.

The pattern of the showa is reminiscent of a bold contemporary painting, full of movement and intense color! The black appears on the head and extends throughout the body, wrapping the body from the dorsal to below the lateral line in large vertical strapping patterns. This is very unlike the sanke which has small to medium size black patches which are more accents than an integral part of the pattern. Unlike the sanke, the showa must have black on the head. This sumi should have a “v” or a “y” pattern. The lightning strip coming vertically from the top of the head to the nose or an irregular sumi line coming across the head is called “menware” (men-wa-ray) or hachiware (ha-chee-wa-ray). These two Japanese terms are used interchangeably. Often times, there is a black patch on the nose “ hanazumi”. For balance and aesthetics, all three colors should be present on the head. 

Showa with very nice
conformation. The three
colors are evenly distributed.
The sumi swoosh on the head
is very dramatic and like
calligraphy. The matched
motoguro (sumi on the base
of the pectoral fins) is a plus.
The bright and clear white
intensifies the deep black
throughout the body.

Showa with nice body shape
and nicely placed hi patches.
The developing black areas hold
promise and should be pretty on
the beautiful white background.
The head area could use more
white although there is white
on the cheeks.

Young hi showa –The red goes throughout the body. The hope is
that the sumi will finish as intense
as some areas indicate.

Showa – All three colors are
evenly distributed. The body on
this showa is a bit thin. The shiroji
background is not as clear as one
would like but it is a young koi.
The head pattern is nice with all
three colors. The sumi is not as shiny and deep as on the other examples.

The edges of each colored pattern should be crisp and sharp with no bleeding of colors. It has been said that the black bordering on the white is a more pleasing combination than the black on the red. However, the patterns usually take so many twists and turns, one has to enjoy the entire effect and let the colors fall where they may!

The pectoral fins usually have black joints called “motoguro” on a white background. This sumi pigment should not extend more than one third of the fin. Many times in a younger koi, the motoguro will go beyond the third mark but will recede as the koi matures. There should be no red color on the fins.  

To review the differences of a showa and a sanke, both red, white, and black koi. The sumi on a sanke are accent irregular roundish patches and on a showa the sumi is more predominant and in vertical very large patterns. The sanke fins have black stripes or rays and the showa has black just at the base of the fin. A sanke should not have black on the head or mouth; however, the showa must have sumi pattern on the head and, even the nose. Many hobbyists and professionals will even look inside the mouth of a koi to determine if it is kohaku or showa. Black inside the mouth tends to assure the potential buyer that the koi is from showa bloodlines. 

There are different types of showa depending on the ratio of colors and scalation. Some of the more common types of showa are:

The kindai showa or modern showa debuted in the 1970s. It is a more delicate koi featuring a larger percentage of white than black. Because of its extensive white background, often times it is difficult to distinguish it from some of the newer sanke varieties which have larger, bolder sumi patches.

The hi showa has a higher percentage of red running throughout the body from head to tail. For some reason, the hi showa is not as appreciated in Japan and is said to lack elegance.

Boke showa have sumi areas which are light, shadowed, or blurred.

Kage showa have bluish shadows on the white. In competitions, this koi is usually entered in a kawarimono class (a class which accommodates koi not fitting into the rigid standards of other varieties) since it is considered an unusual koi.

Tancho showa – This striking variety has a single large red patch on the head (maruten) with black accents, menware lines or hanazumi (black on the nose) and the body consists of black and white patterns with no red.

There are other types of showa with different scales such as diamond scale or metallic scales, and no scales known as doitsu. These varieties will be covered in future articles.

Tancho showa -- One patch of red on the head with black
and white throughout the body, motoguro fins >

Hi showa with very
intense hi on very nice
shiro background. Sumi
is developing on nose.

Kage Showa – White background has shading, beautiful thick hi patches.

Very young showa
1 1/2 years old, 14”(36cm)
The hi patches are placed nicely on the
white. The motoguro fins are matched.
The sumi is nicely placed and still in development.

Koi change as they mature. That is the fun and the bane of the hobby. However, many hobbyists love to select young showa to watch the development. Sometimes it can become the dream come true and, other times, the lack of the development of pattern can be an extreme disappointment.

When selecting a young showa, of course one must look at the conformation. Often times the head structure is too pointy or the eyes are too close to the nose. The hobbyist must check that the pattern doesn’t disguise conformation abnormalities.

It has been said to buy the showa with intense good red as that color always develops first and usually stays. Gamble on the black which develops later. However, there is no guarantee that the red or the black will stay. Recently I purchased babies which had lovely sumi only to see the intense black disappear in a year. In spite of some setbacks and unfulfilled dreams, I still feel that one can select a reasonably priced young showa and have a good chance it will develop into a beautiful mature koi. The pattern requirements are not as precise as in other varieties. Mother Nature has a license for creativity! 

< Very young showa, 6” (15cm) -- Nice hi color distributed
throughout the body. The sumi still needs to develop on the head.

First in the series
Not All Koi Are Created Equal!
Featuring the Kohaku Variety
Next in the series
Sanke | Utsurimono – Shiro, Hi, y Ki Utsuri

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