The Name Game, Part 3: Koi and the Japanese Naming System

In past blogs (here and here), we’ve gone over the basics of the Latin scientific naming system. Now, with spring and pond season just around the corner, it’s time to discuss a different naming system – Japanese Koi Nomenclature. Koi are considered some of the most valuable ornamental fish in some parts of the world and mature show quality koi can sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars much like purebreed dogs and horses. Though other countries raise and produce koi, a Japanese emperor was believed to be the first to begin the practice of keeping koi in ornamental ponds and led to the breeding traditions practiced today. Koi are still usually referred to by their Japanese names for color and pattern.

Like the Latin naming system, the color of the fish plays a large part in the naming system and can point to more specific details in a larger group. For example, Bekko koi are fish that have black markings on a white, red or yellow background. Ki Bekko koi refer to those with a yellow background (“Ki” = “yellow”). The term “hikari” in koi names is also used to refer to a metallic sheen to the scales. Some color terms commonly used for koi are:

Red (Background) “Aka”
Red (markings) “Hi”
Orange/Red (background) “Beni”
Orange “Orenji”
Yellow “Ki”
Pale Yellow “Yamabuki”
Green “Midori”
Blue “Ai”
Brown “Cha”
Gold “Kin”
Silver “Gin”
Grey “Nezu” or “Zezumi”
Black (background) “Karasu”
Black (markings) “Sumi”
White “Shiro”

The most common Japanese terms that are used in reference to koi are those that refer to the pattern on the fish. The most common varieties are Kohaku, Sanke and Showa but there are over 15 commonly-used varieties and each of these can be broken down farther into color variations within that pattern or through lines developed by various breeders.  Some of the most common varieties are:

  • Kohaku – Kohaku koi are white with red markings. High quality Kohaku are pure white with no yellow in the coloring and have a deep, solid red color in the markings.
  • Sanke – Sanke is one of the most popular varieties. Like the Kohaku, these koi are white with red markings, but Sanke koi also have black markings superimposed on the red and white. High quality Sanke may not be symmetrical in their coloration, but the color should be distributed over the entire body, except for the head.
  • Showa – Showa koi are very similar to Sanke but can have much more black on their bodies. The black can be anywhere on the body, including the head, sides and belly (considered undesireable for Sanke koi). Hi Showa is an example of a subvariety of the Showa koi with more deep red color than others.
  • Asagi – Asagi koi are one of the most distinctive varieties (and my personal favorite). These koi have blue bodies, white heads and red markings in the tail, fins and face.
  • Bekko – These koi have black markings with a white, red or yellow base color. The name of the color is usually used to determine which type of Bekko a fish is (Aka Bekko, Ki Bekko, or Shiro Bekko).
  • Goshiki – “Goshiki” literally means “5-colored”, in this case light blue, dark blue, red, black and white. The markings are colored over a white background. This variety can be highly variable in appearance.
  • Hikari Utsuri – These koi have the same pattern as Showa and Utsuri koi, but have a metallic sheen to their scales.
  • Hikarimoyo – These koi are also metallic but are made up of the metallic koi that are not Showa or Utsuri. Hariwake is a popular variety within this group; this subvariety is metallic silver with orange or yellow markings.
  • Hikarimuji – Hikarimuji is another metallic variety but these fish are all one solid metallic color. Pure-colored metallic koi within this category are also known as Ogon koi, leading to the popular Yamabuki Ogons (pale metallic yellow) and Platinum Ogons (pure white and metallic).
  • Kawarimono – This variety is like the Hikarimoyo variety in that it included all fish not included in the other popular varieties, but koi within this group can also be divided into their out categories describing their breeder lineage, color or scale traits. The terms “Gin Rin” (meaning sparkling scales) and “Doitsu” (referring to fish that are otherwise scaleless except for mirrored scales around the dorsal fin) are used more in this variety than most others.
  • Koromo – Koromo koi are similar to Kohaku, but the scales of the red pattern in Koromo koi have dark edges, leading to an almost crosshatched pattern on these markings.
  • Tancho – Tancho koi can sometimes fit within the Kohaku, Sanke or Showa categories, but the markings in Tancho koi are more specific. Tancho koi are white with one red patch on their head, preferably as circular as possible. Tancho Kohaku are the most popular with their pure white bodies and one red patch, but Tancho Sanke and Tancho Showa koi are also popular.
  • Utsurimono or Utsuri – These koi are in some ways the opposite of Bekko koi. Instead of having black marings on a colored background, Utsuri koi are black with white, red or yellow markings. Shiro Utsuri, the black and white variety, are the most common, folowed by the more rare Hi Utsuri (red and black) and Ki Utsuri (yellow and black).

This list is far from all-inclusive of all the koi varieties and patterns but can give you a good start in learning the difference between all of the varieties available. As this list demonstrates, koi are some of the most collectible and carefully-bred fish around with a history going back hundreds of years. Koi and pond care can open up a whole new frontier for avid aquarists and the time to start planning your new pond or new pond additions is here! Chart referenced from Wikipedia here.

36th Anniversary Sale April 18th and 19th at That Fish Place Retail Store

It’s that time of the year again folks. Time for the biggest sale of the year, from the largest pet store in the world: That Fish Place/That Pet Place. This year, we’ve got over 15,000 items up to 50% off, not including our world famous Tent Sale: featuring a big top full of DIY projects waiting to happen including discontinued and open-box items up to 70% off. Fish, Inverts and Live Rock are all 20% off too.

Check out the retail store flyer for a breakdown of all specials.

Manufacturer reps will be on hand from all of the top aquarium and pet supply companies, including Hagen, Current-USA, Coralife, Aquarium Systems, Tetra, Brightwell Aquatics, Seachem and Kent Marine. Door prizes will be available. Games for the kids and outside food vendors as well. Check out the Visit That Fish Place  page for directions to the retail store.

Aquatics Seminars include:

12pm Saturday April18th: Pond Care Basics from Lee Dawkins of Mars Fishcare. Lee has over 20 years of experience in the pond industry, and has been with Pondcare (the pond products division of Marz Fishcare) for 11 years. Lee will be sharing his wealth of knowledge about pond care with our guests, including spring startup, pond care basics, and common problems homeowners have with their ponds.  Come with your questions.

1pm Sunday April 19th: Proactive and Reactive Phosphate Control in Marine Aquaria by Chris Brightwell of Brightwell Aquatics. Phosphate control, is one of the most challenging, and probably the most important aspect of algae control in any aquarium, especially in marine and reef aquariums.  Chris will discuss methods and theory about removal and control of phosphate in marine aquariums, as well as preventative measures that can be taken to manage phosphates in the aquarium once they are under control.

2pm Sunday April 19th:H2Grow by Danielle Davidson of Seachem. Danielle is an industry expert in the field of planted aquarium, and will be doing a presentation about the chemistry and biology of planted aquaria. This discussion will include planted substrate and supplement that are available for the live planted aquarium.

Be sure to check out these great deals and seminars at That Fish Place/That Pet Place retail store in Lancaster, Pennsylvania April 18th and 19th. Stop by and say hi to our bloggers while you’re there too!

Where have all the Seahorses gone?

Seahorses have long been one of the icons of the aquarium hobby, with graceful movements and a delicate, unusual appearance. Seahorses are members of a family of fish known as Sygnathids, meaning “spiny-finned fish”. Other members of the family include Sea Dragons and Pipefish. They each have a small tubular seahorse_orangesnout that enables them to suck in prey items like brine shrimp, copepods, and other similar crustaceans. Seahorses and their relatives are timid and slow-moving. They are most often found in beds or sea grass where they can use their tails to anchor themselves to the grass or corals and not be carried off by the current. Seahorses bear live young that are carried in a pouch, similar to a Kangaroo, until they are mature enough to be released.

A couple of years ago, seahorses were a rather common offering in Aquarium Stores nationwide. Seahorses have long been one of the icons of the aquarium hobby, with graceful movements and a delicate, unusual appearance. In recent years, the with the technical advancements in aquarium keeping, environments can be created to more easily and better suited to keeping these amazing fish. The possibility of keeping sea horses is more within reach than ever. But where have they gone?

In 2004, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) upgraded the status of Seahorse species to “vulnerable” meaning that the seahorse populations are in danger of a 30% decrease due to targeted catch, accidental capture, and habitat loss. One of the biggest threats to these species is the high demand for their dried bodies in Asian and Southeast Asian medicine trades. Climate changes and habitat destruction are also taking huge tolls on these interesting and amazing little creatures.

With growing awareness and increased conservation efforts, captive breeding programs for these animals are growing in number and are becoming increasingly successful. If you’re lucky enough to venture into keeping them in a home aquarium, strive to purchase captive raised individuals. By doing so, stress on wild populations can be reduced, and these animals tend to adapt to aquarium conditions and diets with more ease than wild-caught specimens. Be sure to check out the related articles in the blog for more fascinating facts and tips on keeping these guys at home.

Thanks, Eileen

TFP 700 Gallon Reef Tank – Update

Hi Dave here,

I thought it was about time to post an update to the blog about the 700 gallon reef tank here at TFP. The tank is really starting to mature nicely, and we have seen some really nice growth from the corals in the tank.

For all the particulars of the tank, refer back to the original blog, the details of the tank, lighting, and filtration are discussed in detail. No need to rehash them here.

The tank has been running for about a year now, and things have gone very well. I wanted to post a few new pics of the tank so that you can see the changes since then. We have added a few new items into the tank since the original blog back in August of 2008. The majority of the corals that we put into the tank, originated from captive sources, or frags from our own propagation system, it has been really cool to watch them fill in and grow into larger colonies.

If anyone has any questions about the tank, please ask, I would be happy to explain what I can.

Until next blog

Keeping the Chinese Sailfin Sucker (Shark) in Outdoor Goldfish and Koi Ponds

Hello, Frank Indiviglio here. 

Known by as many as twenty common names, including rough fish and Chinese high-finned banded shark (Myxocyprinus asiaticus), this unusual Chinese import is the subject of much confusion…both as to its natural history and care in captivity.  One thing is certain – this often over-looked oddity is among the hardiest and most interesting fishes that one might add to an outdoor goldfish or koi pond. Check out a picture here.

Natural History

Chinese sailfin suckers are believed to be endemic (found nowhere else) to the Yangtze and Minjiang River Basins in China.  Yet rumors persist that the fish is native to Japan as well, and for a time the populations there were considered to be a distinct subspecies.  Most authorities now consider the subspecies status to be invalid, but there is no consensus as to the origin of the animals living in Japanese waters (I imagine they are feral, introduced from China).

Recent studies indicate that this fish makes extensive breeding migrations, and that its continued survival in China is threatened by dam building and over-harvesting for the food trade.

Care in Captivity

The confusion as to the care of the Chinese sailfin arises from the lack of basic information concerning its natural history.  Fueled perhaps by its “exotic” appearance, this fish is generally sold as a tropical species for inclusion in home aquariums.  In truth it favors water of 62-70 F (although it is tolerant of higher temperatures), may reach 24 inches in length (39 inches by some accounts) and can over-winter under ice in water of sufficient depth.

Chinese sailfins are, therefore, much better suited to an outdoor pond than an aquarium.  Clad in tones ranging from golden-brown to rusty-pink (breeding males are red, females dark purple) and with 3 broad, dark vertical bands, an enormous triangular dorsal fin and comically small head, this bottom-dweller is quite a sight! 

It does best in groups, is peaceful in the extreme, and fares well on a diet of Koi or Goldfish Pellets and Algae Wafers  (they are decidedly vegetarian in their food preferences).

Other Unusual Pond Fishes

Cutlips MinnowChinese sailfin suckers present no difficulties over and above what you might encounter in keeping koi or goldfish outdoors, and will add a great deal of character and interest to your pond. 

Native fishes also present fine opportunities to expand upon your collection of “outdoor fishes”…some mix well with typical pond fish, and without exception all are very interesting.  The cutlips minnows and burbots pictured here, while not very colorful, are fascinating to keep and very hardy.  Please look for my articles on keeping native fishes in the Burbotsfuture.

Further Reading

A synopsis of what little field research has been done with this fish is presented in Current Zoology.


Please write in with your questions and comments.  Thanks, until next time, Frank Indiviglio.