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Koi Varieties


Kohaku (oo-hah-ku), translated as “red and white koi” is the most popular variety of koi in Japan and is also appreciated by koi connoisseurs the world over. The scarlet hi markings, setting off flawless white skin can form endless permutations that give every fish a unique character. Kohaku originated out of Asagi Magoi during the early 1800. Kohaku is a deceptively simple variety and has been called “the representative class of koi”. Understanding kohaku will simplify the understanding of other varieties of koi as some descriptions start off with as “a kohaku pattern” and then it continue with a further description.

The Judging standards for kohaku used to be quite inflexible. Traditional stepped patterns evenly placed head markings that did not extend over the eyes or too far down the face was favoured. As with fashion and popularity, this traditional view has evolved into a more flexible approach to the judging standard we experience today.

Appreciation of kohaku, as with all other koi, begins with the figure. A good strong conformation meaning the overall shape and the proportions of the head, body and finnage, provides that incredible impression of power, grace and elegance. The quality and colour of the white skin is particularly important for kohaku. It should be pure white with no yellowing. If the basic skin quality is high, the white skin ill appear soft, clear uniform and luminous. The white will also influence the pectoral fins to appear delicate and almost translucent at the posterior edges. Although fukurin (shiny skin between the scales) was originally associated with the ogon family, it is more and more appreciated by judges.



Yume_koi Yume_koi_2 Yume_koi_1

Photos Mike Snaden

There are basically two types of red (hi) that is commonly associated with kohaku. The preferred one is the orange based hi. This kind if hi is more difficult to mature (finish) but is more stable when fully developed. The second kind of hi is purple based and looks great on very young kohaku. When a kohaku becomes mature, this hi gives a hard impression and is more unstable. The orange /red are therefore preferred. It gives the impression of being painted on thickly and individual scales are almost impossible to distinguish. As the fish flexes, no white should be discernable between the scales. Hi should also be of the same hue in all of the hi patterns with no faded areas. It is normal for a young kohaku to have a deeper colouration on the head marking than on the rest of the body. This is mainly because there are no scales through which the colour must develop. In fully matured kohaku, the difference between the head hi and rest of the body is barely noticeable. 


The following photos, kindly supplied by Mike Snaden demonstrate the development of a Maruten Kohaku.


Yume_Maruten Yume_Maruten_1


Yume_Maruten_2 Yume_Maruten_3

Photos: Mike Snaden

Various kohaku patterns can be defined
Ippon or straight hi pattern is where the hi extends down the length of the fish, showing very little white patterning. This pattern makes the true appreciation of the pattern edges impossible.

Inazuma or lightning strike hi pattern is an extension of the ippon hi but zigzag down the length of the fish. This pattern is very elegant and allows the appreciation of pattern edges along the whole length of the fish. This pattern was very popular a decade ago.

Danmoyo or stepped pattern consists of blocks of hi that are spaced along the length of the fish and are separated by areas of white skin. It may be niddan (two steps), sandan (three steps), yondan (four steps) and godan (five steps). This stepped pattern allows for full appreciation of all the intricate qualities of the kohaku. The last pattern is the flowery pattern. If it consists of substantial markings it can be attractive but can not compete with danmoyo for the highest honours at a show.  

Kiwa is of the utmost importance when appreciating the markings of a kohaku. This is the posterior line where the hi pattern meets white ground. It should be clear cut with no fading or “bleeding”. Sashi on the other hand is on the anterior side where the hi meets the white on the anterior side of a hi marking. In young fish a slight pinkish colouration is acceptable because the white scales are overlaying the hi pattern. This should be uniform in width and should ideally be only the width of one scale.  When the kohaku matures, the sashi should also be clear cut.

There are two distinct types of markings that form a pattern. Omoyo is the bigger markings and komoyo, the smaller markings. When selecting a very young kohaku, select one with omoyo. The reason is that the kohaku will eventually grow into the pattern and the cute komoyo pattern may appear insipid when the koi matures.

Please have a look at a very comprehensive article regarding the importance of pattern written by Mark Gardner.

Some other facts about kohaku

  • Asagi hi:  Hi appearing as freckles below the lateral line – not ok
  • Beret hi:  Asymmetrical head hi on one side only – now popular
  • Bongiri:   The head hi does not come far enough forward towards the nose
  • Bozu:        No hi on head (bold) -  not ok
  • Hanatsuki: The head hi extends down the nose – not really ok
  • Hoaka:     Hi over the gill plate – only ok with beret hi
  • Komoyo:  Small hi rapping pattern above the lateral line – ok for small fish
  • Kirekomi: White inserts into the hi that raps from the belly
  • Kokeski: Colourless areas within a hi button
  • Kutchibeni: Hi on lips – ok
  • Kutsubera: Shoe horn shaped  pattern on the head – classic
  • Maruten: Separate round hi marking on the head, complementing the rest of the pattern
  • Menkaburi:  A complete red head – frowned upon – throw – back to early kohaku development.
  • Motoaka: Hi on pectoral fin joints – ok if small
  • Nagaremoyo: Streaming hi pattern
  • Omoyo: Large rapping hi pattern to be low the lateral line – ok for large fish
  • Tobi hi: Small, lighter coloured hi spots – not ok
  • Uwappi: Thin hi – not ok

In my view the first impression of the fish is always the head marking. It is the first thing you see when a koi approach you and lend a specific character to every individual. In recent years uniquely shaped head patterns have became acceptable and desirable, for example, beret hi. The overall picture of a kohaku should be wrapped up with ojime. This is the last centimetre or two on the peduncle between the last hi marking and the start of the tail fin. This area should be white, although I have noticed some show winners with hi extending right up to the tail fin.


Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 September 2015 20:59