with a very delicate pattern
Living works of art
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.
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 - 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
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 its 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
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.
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.
First in the series
Hi utsuri with
very heavy sumi
Kin ki utsuri with metallic background
< Hi utsuri - young koi with
a very nice sumi pattern
All Koi Are Created Equal!
Featuring the Kohaku Variety
Next in the series
| Showa | Utsurimono
Shiro, Hi, y Ki Utsuri