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Koi Varieties


Shiro Utsuri (she-ro oot-sir-ee): Black and white Koi. Black appears as bands around the body. Black on some portion of the head and motoguro on the pectoral fins is desirable.

Hi Utsuri (he-oot-sir-ee): Red and black Koi.

Ki Utsuri (key-oot-sir-ee): Yellow and black Koi.

The 4th of the main varieties of Nishikigoi, the Utsurimono, is basically a two coloured Koi the base colour of which is black, the second colour being either white - Shiro Utsuri; red - Hi Utsuri; or yellow - Ki Utsuri. The Ki Utsuri is in fact amongst the earliest of any known nishikigoi. It has been described in the Meiji era. Originally called “Kuru Ki Han” meaning black and yellow markings, it was stabilised in 1920 from the Tetsu Magoi line. It is a great pity that they are now uncommon and rarely seen, although renewed effort from some breeders in Japan may see the quantity and quality of this variety improve. The Shiro Utsuri was first stabilised in 1925 to become the most popular Utsuri of the three varieties, because huge effort has been put into the improvement of Shiro Utsuri for some time. The Shiro Utsuri is therefore more refined and more elegant. The word “Utsuri” means change or reflections and some people say it indicates the tendency for the sumi to change radically during development. This theory is well illustrated in the photos below. The other interpretation is that it means that the sumi markings are mirrored by white, red or yellow markings, depending on the variety. Utsurimono originally demonstrated far more black skin than white red or yellow. The finnage was also predominantly dark. This still prevail in the Hi Utsuri and Ki Utsuri that tends to have heavily striped pectoral fins in stead of the neat motoguro of the Shiro Utsuri. The early Utsurimono had the greyish Nabe sumi, inherited from the Tetsu Magoi.

Whether considering a Shiro Utsuri, Hi Utsuri, or Ki Utsuri, one should concentrate firstly on body conformation. The markings may hide deformities, therefore close scrutiny is necessary.  Concentrate on balance as well as skin quality, for the secondary colour must enhance the sumi.

Shiro Utsuri
The modern Utsurimono, and in particular the Shiro Utsuri nowadays boasts less sumi, but it appears jet-black and shiny, that gives credit to the meaning, “printers ink”. A body that is 50% black and 50% white is classical, but a higher amount of white is preferred in current judging. As with Showa, the sumi should wrap the fish from below the lateral line towards the dorsal fin in asymmetrical  large patches that should be balanced, not only from front to back, but also from side to side. The Sumi however should always be a rich solid black to provide the contrast against the white skin. Snow white skin is particularly valued in this variety. Shiro Utsuri breeders in recent years have improved the white significantly and are now producing Koi with exceptional clear blue-white body colour which is considered to be one of the main criteria of quality in Shiro Utsuri. Make sure the Utsuri only has two colours, especially on the Shiro Utsuri.

There should be no red spots. Any red markings will technically make the Shiro Utsuri a Showa. The head must have both colours. The Sumi pattern should always extend onto the head, preferably dividing it and running down to the nose. A lightening pattern of black down the face or a black V across the top of the head (menware, hachiware) is favoured, but any interesting pattern will do. Be wary of too much head sumi as this may increase with age and can lead to an undesirable black headed Koi. Many Shiro Utsuri have a creamy/yellow cast to the head, usually a sign they are not of the highest quality, although I have seen this disappear in many young koi during the second or third year to be replaced by brilliant white. Body markings on Shiro Utsuri, should be large and imposing with well defined clear edges. Small markings give a broken look. More complex patterns are prized with Utsuri as one can better see the contrast and edge of colour throughout the fish. No single scale sumi should exist.  Underlying Sumi is often visible as grey under the skin, which when developed should produce stable black markings although there can be no guarantees. It will depend on the development and thickness of the white (shiroji).

The pectoral fins should have motoguro, black ball joints with black radiating outwards and not merely stripes. Utsuri with all black pectoral fins are often found giving a heavy appearance which is undesirable. The pectoral fins of a very young Shiro Utsuri may be all black or have a large patch of black at the base. This marking tends to retract to form the desirable motoguro. Make sure both pectorals match.  The Sumi may extend into the dorsal and tail fins. Providing they are not totally black, it is acceptable. Kiwa should be crisp and clear-cut. Because of the high contrast of black and white on the Shiro Utsuri, the Sashi may be blurred. In fact, Sumi Sashi of one to two scales is viewed as strong sumi.  It is said that the sumi is so thick that the white can never cover it up, but it should be uniform.

Like the Showa, Utsuri are very popular because of the bold appearance of strength, combined with the elegance of the contrast.


Hi and Ki Utsuri
The other two colour varieties, the Hi (red) and the Ki (yellow) Utsuri should have all the previous points. Both however tend to suffer from one serious drawback, that of black speckling on the red or yellow. This effect of sumi braking up or scattering, detract from the overall appearance. Specimens with no staining are very rare and are highly valued. The speckling tends to develop as the Koi gets older. The other important feature to look for is a uniform red or yellow colour. Heads are often different in colour than that of the body. Sometimes the ki or the hi may have a deeper colour in juveniles but it tends to become more even as the fish matures. Both these colours should however be thick and deep. It is perhaps wisest therefore to look for Koi with potential rather than one whose pattern is fully developed when small.

           ki_utsuri                      hi_utsuri

As stated above, one of the interpretations of the word “utsuri” is that it means “change”. Below is an illustration of the development of a Shiro Utsuri that I purchased from Koi at Jungle on 12 February 2006 to grow on. The second photo was taken on 8 April 2007 and the last photo reflects the almost mature koi on 14 November 2008. The change in sumi pattern is unbelievable, but the end result of the shiroji is breathtaking! It now lives happily in the pond of Bertus and Engela Hamman.


Some other facts about Utsuri
  • Gin Rin Utsuri:  Rows of very shiny scales, along the back and sides of the koi.
  • Hanazumi:    Sumi on the nose.
  • Kage Utsuri:    Shadowed white red or yellow skin.
  • Kutchizumi:    Sumi on the lips.
  • Nabe sumi:    Greyish sumi from the Tetsu Magoi line.

Distinguishing between Utsuri and Bekko
For the novice these two varieties may appear similar because of the red, yellow or white markings combined with black. Any one or a combination of the following characteristics tends to distinguish Utsurimono from Bekko.
  • Sumi is usually present on the head and nose of an Utsurimono with distinct menware or hachiware patterning, while the head of the Bekko is normally single coloured.
  • Sumi on the Utsurimono may appear in large blocks, wrapping around the koi from below the lateral line towards the dorsal line. The Bekko have smaller sumi plates resembling a tortoise shell or stepping stones, above the lateral line.
  • Sumi in the pectoral fins of an Utsurimono appears as black fin joints (motoguro). Sumi on the pectoral fins of the Bekko appears as stripes (tejima).
  • Sumi may appear inside the mouth of the Utsurimono.

Last Updated on Friday, 20 December 2013 12:10