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General Description

'Showa Sanshoku', or 'showa' is the term applied to a koi that has a black body with red and white markings. This definition is confusing to beginners, since modern showa clearly shows that it also has a white body with red and black markings, just like a sanke.  This definition came from the early history of showa. When this breed emerged and was established, it was predominantly black. At that time, most breeders keep this breed for its 'blackness.'  Nowadays, hobbyists prefer a more balanced mix of red, white, and black.

The difference between a sanke and a showa is in the appearance of the sumi markings.  Sanke sumi tend to be in the form of spots generally confined to the body above the lateral line, while showa sumi appear to be relatively larger streaks that 'wrap' around the body (going below the lateral line) as well as extend into the head. 

Showa as a koi breed was established around 1920, during the Showa Emperor Era.

Appreciation Criteria


The shiro (white) base color of the body must be unblemished, thick, snowy, and even milky. The shiro must not exhibit any yellowish tint.

The hi (red) markings on the white body must be solid, deep, and evenly-colored throughout the entire body. The edges of these markings (also known as the 'kiwa') must be very defined, or as they say, 'sharp as a razor.'

The hi color may vary from koi to koi, but it should be of uniform hue within an individual koi.  Different koi exhibit different hues, from a deep persimmon orange to dark, purplish red.  This entire range is acceptable, although judges invariably have their own preferences.   

The sumi (black) markings of a Showa must be deep, solid, and shiny lacquer-black. The shape of every sumi marking must be clearly defined, with its kiwa or edges as sharp as possible.  Undeveloped sumi may appear mottled dark blue or gray instead of solid black.  This is not bad for a young koi, since sumi actually develops as the koi grows older.  In fact, spotting a potential champion at a young age involves good anticipation of how well the sumi will develop in the next few years.




Old-style Showa (left) and Kindai Showa (right)

Photos' sources: www.koi.com; www.keirinponds.com


The red and black markings on the white body must be artistically balanced.  This means that a certain color must not be confined to one side or one end of the koi only.  A good example of excellent showa pattern is if the black, red, and white colors are interspersed in a 'checkerboard' pattern.

The red-over-white pattern may be continuous or 'stepped', but the over-all effect of white and red balancing each other should be the ultimate consideration. Many people prefer stepped koi and understandably so, since this pattern ensures red and white alternating with each other. Showa with a large percentage of its body covered by 'hi' with very little shiro is known as 'hi showa'.  Hi showa is less desired, since the predominantly red body makes it look heavy. 

A white area separating the tail and the red marking nearest the tail is known as a tail stop, and is considered desirable. A red mark on the lips of a koi (also known as 'kuchibeni') is a 'plus' if it enhances the over-all package of the koi.


A good showa must have all three colors on its head.  Lightning-shaped sumi that streaks across the head and divides it into two is desirable. This sumi head marking is known as a 'menware.' A V-shaped sumi pattern on the shoulder of a showa is also desired.  It used to be that judges look for both a menware and this V-shaped shoulder sumi in a showa, but nowadays the presence of only one of these is acceptable. 

If a round red patch on the head is the only red marking on the showa, then the koi is called a 'tancho showa', a highly-prized koi variety among the Japanese since it looks like their national bird.  If there are other red markings on the body of the koi, then the round head patch makes it a 'maruten' showa.

The sumi of a showa must be distributed in the koi body such that they collectively add balance to the koi.  Their presence should enhance the 'kohaku pattern' and not degrade it.  Old-style showa koi are heavily endowed with sumi.  Modern showa (also known as 'kindai showa') exhibit a sparser distribution of sumi, but these should be clearly defined and solid black nonetheless. 

The base of the pectoral fins of a showa must be black. This black base area of pectoral fins is known as 'motoguro.'  The more defined and confined to the base it is, the better.


Please see separate article on The Ideal Koi Body.



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