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Fourth in the series of Koi Varieties

Shiro utsuri
with a very delicate pattern

Living works of art
Utsurimono –
Shiro, Hi, and Ki Utsuri

by Pam Spindola, California USA 
Click images to enlarge

“Utsuri” means reflection in Japanese. Aptly named, this koi is a black-bodied koi with white, red, or yellow as its secondary color. This secondary color seems to complement the bold strapping lines of the black (sumi) body. The shimmering patterns play optical games and appear as reflections. In most instances, it appears that the black is the accent color but, if one studies the genealogy of this variety, the utsuri was bred from one of the earliest lineages: tetsu magoi, a black common carp. Over the years, since 1925, several improvements have been made and we see different ratios of black to the accent color. The more modern varieties seem to have 40% black “sumi” to 60% color.

This variety is so appreciated that it is often included with the kohaku, sanke, and showa (gosanke) in koi competitions for eligibility for certain coveted awards. 

Drawing of utsuri pattern -
vertical straps, motoguro fins, and lightning stripe
across the head.

The conformation of the koi is very important, as always. A torpedo shape body with nicely shaped fins and everything in proportion is essential to showing off the quality of color and pattern of the utsuri.

The basic distinguishing feature of the utsuri is the bold black straps wrapping vertically over the body below the lateral line (the faint row of sensors, scales with small dots in the center, which seem to divide the koi into two parts -- upper and lower sections). The black should extend across the head in one of two patterns: a diagonal lightening-like line or a “v” pattern, “hachiware” or “menware”. Recently, in more modern examples of the utsuri, sometimes only a hint of this pattern appears. Some koi exhibit a black dot on the nose (hanazumi). All of these head patterns are acceptable as it is the balance of the entire pattern that makes the utsuri a work of art.

Included in the composition of this art piece are the fins. As in the showa of the last issue, the pectoral fins should have black at the base (motoguro). They should not be considered as separate features but part of the pattern and conformation of the koi. The sumi pattern requirement is exactly the same as in the showa, the variety covered in the previous issue.

The depth and quality of the color is very important. The black or “sumi” should appear shiny like patent leather and blue-black or ebony in color. In older examples or inferior quality utsuri, the black is dull and appears dusty. For those hobbyists interested in showing fish, know that stress sometimes affects the color, especially the black. Therefore, when contemplating a purchase of an utsuri, have the koi stay in the tub for half an hour or more to make sure the black does not fade. 

Hi utsuri - has a nice head
pattern but the rest of
the body is too black
and lacks interest. This
koi probably will go
through many changes.

Shiro utsuri 

The white “shiro”, the red, “hi” and the yellow “ki” need to be thick, clear, and even. There should not be shadows or different hues of the same color. Often the colored areas are marred with speckling of black scales called “shimis.” This speckling is common in this variety and detracts from the beauty and elegance. The white “shiro” has to be crisp and pure. In younger koi, this white will have a bluish tinge. Undesirable are a yellow or pink cast. Sometimes, the carotene or color enhancers in food will adversely color the white. As an indicator of the quality of the color, some hobbyists will examine the white color closest to the tail which develops sooner than on the rest of the body.  

Shiro utsuri 

Shiro utsuri - good motoguro fins, the black
nose seems to balance
the large expanse of
white on the body

Hi utsuri -
red background - unmatched fins are a deficiency

Ki Utsuri -yellow background - has some speckling in the middle
and very heavy black fins

Young koi - red patch on cheek makes it a poor koi.
It is not utsuri and
not a good showa.

The shiro utsuri seems to be the most prized of the three sub varieties and more readily available. The hi utsuri needs to be even-toned with no stray black scales. In the ki, the yellow should be bright with no orange shadows. The latter two varieties are not as common and it’s very difficult to find good examples when mature. By the way, the ki utsuri is considered one of the oldest varieties having appeared earlier than 1925 and originally named “kuro ki han”, meaning "black and yellow markings”.

Enhancing the colors is the sheen or luster of the koi. This is the glow or lacquer-like brilliance of the colors attributed not only to the health of the koi but to the excellent quality of the pond water where it is raised.

The utsuri should resemble the cut silhouette pictures made by artists at county fairs -- a sharp edged black pattern on a contrasting solid background. The color needs to be so thick that it is actually difficult to see the individual scales. On the leading edge of the scale, the front edge, the black scale will go under the colored scale in front of it. If the colored scale is not thick in color, the black scale will show through as grey giving an unfinished, blurry front edge. This is called “sashi”. It has been said that a slight blur gives a three dimensional appearance and actually enhances the pattern. The decision as to whether it is a positive or negative will be on an individual basis. 

Shiro utsuri,
white background
checkerboard pattern

The back edge of the scale makes a very clean edge as it is on top of the contrasting color. This clean line is called “kiwa”.

Pictured in this article are normal scaled koi. However, the utsuri has been bred as scaleless (doitsu), metallic (hikari), and as diamond scale (ginrin). These varieties will be analyzed in future articles.

A well shaped body, clear deep color, sharpness of pattern, a pleasing ratio of color to black, an interesting head pattern, good fins, and the quality of luster or sheen make the utsuri a formidable contender for top awards at a koi show. It most definitely is a crowd pleaser in the pond.

Hi utsuri with
very heavy sumi


Kin ki utsuri with metallic background

< Hi utsuri - young koi with
a very nice sumi pattern

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

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