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Showa (sho-wah)
Black, red and white Koi.  The black (sumi) appears like bands around the body.  The sumi is often seen at the base of the pectoral fins (motoguru) and on the head.  Ideally, all three colours should appear on the head. Showa as it is commonly named, is actually Showa Sansuku.  The first Showa was produced through crossbreeding Ki Utsuri with Kohaku.  These Showa had fairly pale hi and the characteristic nabe sumi (greyish) inherited from the Tetsu (iron) Magoi.  As with other varieties the rich, dense black sumi from the Asagi Magoi was introduced later.  Showa were originally described as black koi with red and white patterns.  The Showa, Sanke and Kohaku are the so-called “big three” show varieties of koi.

 Showa             hi_showa

Today it is difficult to imagine the modern Showa as a black koi with superimposed red and white markings.  It is probably more fitting to think of Showa as a three-coloured koi with equal amounts of sumi, shiroji and hi.  Through crossbreeding with sanke it has become increasingly difficult for the newcomer to distinguish between the two varieties.  As a general rule, although there can be exceptions, the showa usually demonstrate at least two of the following characteristics:

  1. The pectoral fins have black sumi joints (motoguru)
  2. Sumi is present in the mouth
  3. The head and particularly the nose have sumi markings
  4. Sumi rises from the abdomen like mountain peaks on either side from below the lateral line, towards the dorsal fin.

Appreciation of Showa starts with the generic requirement of all variations of koi namely good body conformation, high skin quality and good deportment.  Study a Showa carefully because sumi markings easily hide defects in the body conformation.  It helps to look at a Showa from every side at a 45 degree angle and carefully note the profile.  Maybe inbreeding has caused the Showa to be prone to faulty head and body shape.  A defect, no matter how small will only grow worse as the fish matures.  Gill deformation, “miss-aligned” head and a pinched effect behind the gills are frequently encountered.

Showa should have clean and well defined colours.  The sumi on a Showa is a vital appreciation point and should be like ebony, solid, well defined and shining.  It should be prominent and the kiwa should be neatly outlined.  Showa often have a netting effect (vignette) of white within a sumi marking.  This is generally referred to as boke (boh-kee).   If well defined and combined with areas of solid black sumi, it can enhance the attractiveness of the specimen.  Hi ought to be blood red and essentially as described for Kohaku.  The hi should be even and thick.  Individual scales should almost be impossible to distinguish and the kiwa should be crisp and clean-cut.

Shiroji (white) should be snow white and of a high quality.  It should not be yellow stained or creamy.  The amount of white on the Showa varies considerably.  The traditional Showa has very little white while the Kindai Showa has white in equal proportions of the sumi and the hi.  The Hi Showa resembles a Hi Utsuri but if any white is observed when viewed from the side at an angle of 45 degrees, it is a Showa.  In view of the above, the white on a Showa should be balanced, regardless of how much white it possess.   There should preferably be some white on the head.

Head markings on Showa are a principle feature in the appreciation of this variety.  The general term used for the sumi marking on the head is menware (men’ wah reh).  It literally means split mask and appears as a bold slash of sumi between the eyes, dividing the face.  The menware is generally a Y-shaped sumi marking, starting behind the head.  V-shaped menware is also seen where the V is situated behind the head.  Ideally the V-shape should be accompanied by a sumi marking on the nose.  The menware should split a prominent hi marking on the head in two, and it will appear balanced if some shiroji is also present on the head.  Motoguru, if present, should also be balanced in both pectoral fins.

The Showa cross Showa spawning results normally in plus minus 30% true Showa offspring and the Shiro Utsuri and Hi Utsuri are frequent “by-products” of such a spawning.  Selecting a young Showa is a true challenge to the Koi keeper as the fish rarely shows the true sumi at an early age.  It normally will appear smudged and dark grey.  The motoguru of a young Showa might be big and cover the whole pectoral fin but it may gain definition as the fish matures. The hi of a Showa may be mustard green or orange.  If it is thick and deep colours, it will mature into red after a few years.  Distinct patterns and separation of  colours is normally not present in young Shwa.  The colours normally overlap and merge with one another.  A near perfect young Showa will possibly lose its quality as it ages.  It is the ugly duckling young Showa that will mature into a beautiful fish.

One of the main traits of a Showa is the impression of power that it radiates.  The eyes are immediately drawn to a boldly coloured Showa when viewing a koi collection.  Where the Sanke radiates elegance, the Showa radiates power.

If there were such a creature as a top-grade koi that somehow managed to escape the notice of its breeder and sold as part of a cheap lot, that fish would be a Showa.  No other variety exhibits so many pattern changes or can delight or exasperate to such a degree.  Maybe Showa are the Koi that satisfy the gambling streak in all of us.

Just look at the changes to this young Showa from 25 October 2008 to 25 February 2009. 4 months!

             penrith_showa1                           penrith_showa4

Some things to note about Showa

  • Boke Showa:  Blurred sumi, unfinished appearance.
  • Doitsu Showa: Kawagoi, almost no scales at all. Kagamigoi, rows of scales along the dorsal and lateral lines only.
  • Hanazumi: Sumi on the nose.
  • Hi Showa: Almost no visible white skin.
  • Kanoko Showa: Cherry blossom (dappled) hi
  • Kindai Showa: Even distribution of white, hi and sumi plates.
  • Kin Gin Rin Showa: Shiny scales along the back and sides of the Showa.
  • Kin Showa: Metallic Showa.
  • Koromo Showa: Reticulated scales over the hi
  • Kutchizumi: Sumi on the lips.
  • Menware: Lightning stripe sumi on the head.
  • Motoguru: Black pectoral fin joints.
  • Nabe Sumi: Greyish sumi from Tetsu Magoi line.
  • Traditional Showa: Approxymately 30% or less white skin.


Knowing good young Showa by studying the sumi on the pectoral fins.

Takayuki Iseki wrote a very interesting article in Nichirin, July 2003. I found it fascinating to read and since then I have seen small/young Showa in a total new light.  I always maintain that the person making predictions about the future development of a Tosai Koi is either a fool or very, very brave. Mr Kadama in his book “Nishikigoi Development” mentioned it over and over that when evaluating young Sanke and Showa, it is the rule to consider only the quality of the Shiroji and the hi pattern. Sumi markings are totally ignored, because the real sumi is still developing.

It is however worthwhile to consider the observations of people who had the honour of seeing thousands of young Koi develop and are willing to share the experiences with fellow Koi keepers. The following observations were made by Takayuki Iseki regarding the development of sumi in Tosai Showa.

There are Tosai or Nisai Showa that have at first glance ideal sumi on their pectoral fins, but according to Takayuki Iseki some of them will lose these sumi when they are three or four years old. On the other hand, there are young Showa that have heavy black pectoral fins that will develop into ideally placed motoguro when the fish is mature.

When the sumi appears on the leading ray of the pectoral fins of a young Showa, the sumi will become unsightly motoguro in future. The kiwa on the body sumi will also become unclear or smudged. When the leading ray of the pectoral fin is clear with no sumi, even if the rest of the fin is completely black, it will develop into nice round sumi as the fish mature. This kind of sumi on the Showa is thought to be of good quality and will retain its quality for many years. Takayuki Iseki motivate this observation by pointing out that when one visits the old parent stock in Niigata, the Showa parents will still have lustrous sumi while the hi is already disappearing. He knew the parent stock since they were Tosai and points out that many of them had good motoguro as youngsters with clear leading fin rays!



Compare the motoguro illustrations A and B. The A type of sumi doesn’t look promising at a young age, but this type of sumi can form good motoguro in future. It takes a long time to become refined, but it will keep the final quality motoguro for years to come. The B type sumi may be finished quickly, even at the age of three years. These young Showa may win their classes at early shows, but soon the sumi will become deformed. Even the sumi on the body will lose the sharpness of the kiwa.

The C type of sumi in the pectoral fin has the preferred placement. One can see that the leading fin ray is clear and the motoguro is round and neat. A young Showa possessing such motoguro will also have excellent body sumi as it matures.

The D type sumi on the pectoral fin will never become better or reach an ideal state of finish. This kind of sumi marking on the pectoral fin will fade away in stripes year by year.

There is however one thing that Takayuki Iseki points out that is very important. One should not choose a Showa with even type C motoguro if the sumi markings on the body have not yet come up. As the body sumi comes up clear and black, the motoguro will spread and cover too much of the pectoral fin. When you study a potential Tategoi Showa with its body sumi totally unfinished, it should have tiny motoguro.

True Tategoi Showa

The following three Showas are two to three year old fish and symbolize the ideal to look for when selecting young fish. These three are excellent examples of the types of showa available. Very different but all showing true power. That is Showa!



        IMG_9474_512x768_-_Copy      Nissai_showa_-_58cm      Showa_3_yearsw


        Photo: Ernst van Dyk                                                           Photo: Ernst van Dyk                                 Photo: Roy Pillay


The many facemarkings of Showa


Updated 27 June 2010

Last Updated on Friday, 20 December 2013 12:10