50th Anniversary All Japan Nishikigoi Show
Nishikigoi in Landscapes

Introducing Nishikigoi  | Varieties of Nishikigoi


Introducing Nishikigoi

Nishikigoi is the only ornamental fish produced in Japan, and is even called our national fish. The beautiful form we see today is a result of developing the scanty color in the Magoi (black carp) found in nature, and repeating improvements upon improvements. Its beginnings can be traced back to the middle of the Edo period, where it originated in the Yamakoshi region, in the middle of Niigata prefecture. The people of this snow-bound mountainous region created the ancestors of the richly colored Nishikigoi and the myriad varieties that we see today. 

Nishikigoi varieties can be subdivided into more than 80 types. This great number of varieties is unequaled by any other ornamental fish. One of the charms of Nishikigoi is this rich range of varieties. 
Nishikigoi range in length from around 10 centimeters to one meter, with many sizes in between. This means you can choose koi that suit the size of the pond and the amount of water in which they’ll be raised. Smaller koi can even be kept in glass tanks and on apartment balconies.

In addition to its birthplace in Niigata, Nishikigoi are bred in many regions throughout Japan. They are also exported around the world. Due to their bright colors and great size, they’re known abroad as the world’s largest garden fish, and the number of their devotees is growing constantly.

Even overseas, Japanese terminology is used in the world of Nishikigoi. The Japanese language is used not only for the names of varieties, but for technical terms as well. For example, Kohaku and Tohosai, and the word Nishikigoi itself. The number of words borrowed from foreign languages is increasing in Japanese, but Nishikigoi terminology is one of the few parts of the Japanese language that has become international. 

The Nishikigoi, created by the Japanese, has become popular throughout the world. That is due not only to the colorful hues that fascinate viewers, but also because the understated elegance seen in some varieties also translates into the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, or transience and imperfection. In other words, Nishikigoi are perceived as a “swimming work of art” within the context of Japanese culture. 

We hope that you, too, will enjoy the beauty of Nishikigoi to your heart’s content. 

From “Invitation to Nishikigoi”, All Japan Nishikigoi Promotion Association (Planning)


Introducing Nishikigoi | Varieties of Nishikigoi


Varieties of Nishikigoi



Shiroji (white skin) with red patterns, and no colors other than red. As a rule, the shiroji must be visible, so that the symphony of interwoven red and white can be admired.
Ideally the shiroji must be very white, and the red should be a deep, bright scarlet. The large red pattern is called hiban, and the best quality Kohaku has a uniform hiban and clearly defined kiwa (edges) between hiban and shiroji
The pattern depends on individual tastes, but the overall hiban patterns are variously named nidan, sandan, inazuma and others. 
Kohaku is a popular variety of Nishikigoi, and has been the basis for creating a multitude of other varieties.


This variety is similar to Kohaku, with the addition of small black markings. Its name comes from the fact that it was created in the reign of the Taisho emperor (1912-1926), and Sanke (sometimes read Sanshoku), or three colors, derives from the white of the skin, the red hiban and the black sumi markings. The name is often abbreviated to just “Taisho”, “Sanshoku”, or “Sanke”.
This variety exhibits its splendor with the sumi pattern. With the Kohaku pattern as the base, individual sumi markings are arranged in a balanced manner. The ideal is said to be urushizumi, which has a bright sheen. Taisho Sanke can be elegant with fewer sumi, or bold and expressive. They can be roughly differentiated by the arrangement of the sumi.


This variety exhibits red, white and black colors, but the sumi differs from that of Taisho Sanke. It was developed in the 1930s, the early part of the Showa era, and so was named Showa Sanke, sometimes abbreviated to Showa. This variety appeals with its dynamic sumi. It’s called utsuri sumi, and the entire body is black immediately after hatching. Then the white and red pattern comes up through the black skin. However, one could be forgiven for seeing the body as white. The characteristics of Showa Sanke’s sumi are that the patterns run continuously and roll up from the hara to the back. Kindai (modern) Showa have more white than black.


Utsurimono has a red pattern on a black base, with absolutely no colors other than red. Like Showa Sanke, this variety has utsuri sumi.
Utsurimono has three versions, Shiro Utsuri, with white, Hi Utsuri with red, and Ki Utsuri with yellow. The body of each version is monochrome, with continuous utsuri sumi patterns.
Shiro Utsuri has a startling dramatic appearance, and Hi Utsuri draws you in with its charm, while Ki Utsuri has a simple essence. By rights these are completely separate varieties, but because they all have sumi in common, they are grouped together under Utsurimono.  


This variety has a monochrome body with regular spots of sumi. There are three versions: Shiro Bekko (white), Aka Bekko (red) and Ki Bekko (yellow). It gets its name from the resemblance of the markings to tortoiseshell (bekko), used in combs and eyeglass frames.

The difference between Utsurimono and Bekko is that the former has a black body, while the Bekko’s base is white. This is also the case for the difference between the sumi in Taisho Sanke and Showa Sanke: Hiban on Shiro Utsuri is Showa Sanke, while hiban on Shiro Bekko is Taisho Sanke. Bekko is a fish that exudes a simple splendor.


This variety was bred from Kohaku, and has blue or black-edged scales only on the hiban pattern. It is called Koromo because of the scale colors, which makes it look like the fish are wearing clothes (koromo in Japanese). This variety enchants with its austere elegance, having Kohaku’s hiban as the underlying tone. Koromo can be divided by color into the two big categories of Ai Goromo and Sumi Goromo, but these days Ai Goromo is the most common. Selective breeding has also created Koromo Sanke, with indigo edging on Taisho Sanke hiban scales; and Koromo Showa, with indigo edging on Showa Sanke. Another popular variety is the Budo Goromo, which has a darker overlay on the hi that gives it the appearance of bunches of grapes (budo).


This fish has just one round red patch on its head. The name comes from the Japanese red-crowned crane (tancho), which also has a red spot on its head. It also resembles Japan’s national flag, and is quite popular.

Different varieties of koi having a round red patch on the head are called Tancho. This means it can be assumed that all varieties having hiban have Tancho. Those with all white bodies are Kohaku Tancho, and usually this is what is meant by “Tancho”. Taisho Sanke with the red spot are called Tancho Sanke, and there are many other versions such as Tancho Showa and Tancho Goshiki.  


This koi has been bred so that only the scales glitter, sparkling in either gold or silver. Kinginrin versions exist across all varieties, such as Ginrin Kohaku, Ginrin Sanke, and Ginrin Bekko. The glittering scales appear gold when on hiban, and silver when on shiroji, but together they’re referred to as Ginrin. Together with Hikarimono, this variety exemplifies the glamor of Nishikigoi. Ginrin that glitter strongly are called Daiya Gin, and there are other categories of Ginrin depending on how they glitter.
“Ginrin Orenji Ogon “ Promotion Association classification: Hikari-muji
“Ginrin Hariwake “ Promotion Association classification: Hikari-moyo
“Ginrin Taisho Sanke “ Promotion Association classification: A Ginrin


Asagi’s body is in shades of blue such as indigo or light blue except for the head, with an overall net pattern. Depending on the depth of the blue on the body, it can be divided into Konjo Asagi and Narumi Asagi. It’s the ancestor of Nishikigoi, and most varieties are said to have been originally bred from Asagi. This is a simple yet refined koi. The red on the belly is called funazokohi, and the red on the cheeks is called yakko. The harmony with the blue body color is reminiscent of a perfectly clear blue dawn sky with clouds touched red by the morning light… exactly the color of Asagi.
Those with lots of red on the body are called Hi Asagi.

Shusui is a Doitsu variety of Asagi. It was created in Tokyo as the first Nishikigoi type of Doitsu-goi. In other words, it’s an Edokko, meaning Tokyo born and bred. The name, which means “autumn (shu or aki) green” comes from the first character of creator Akiyama Yoshigoro’s name, and the green-blue of the body. It’s appreciated for the blue of the body and the arrangement of the large scales. Good specimens must not have uneven or different-sized scales. The same as for Asagi, funazokohi have red on the belly, or yakko, red on the cheeks. In Hi Shusui, the red covers the body, and if the hi shapes are round it’s called Hana Shusui.


This variety has an Asagi base with hikari (metallic) and hi patterns. It might be easier to think of it as a goshiki Hikarimono. Good specimens have Kohaku-like patterns and the net pattern of Asagi, with a strong luster. The name, which means “peacock”, comes from the association with the beauty of the peacock’s spread tail feathers. The official name is Kujaku Ogon.

Kujaku is a typical Hikarimoyo variety, and in recent years has been the subject of intensive selective breeding. In fact, it is  now judged in a separate category from Hikarimoyo in national competitions.


A Doitsu-goi with strong black color on shiroji. They differ from Utsuri sumi in that the pattern is like black clouds rising up spontaneously from within the body. It was given the name Kumonryu (“nine dragons”) from the legend of the dragon that turned into a cloud and raced through the sky. The black markings change easily, with a tendency to sink into the shiroji in warmer water and reappear when the water temperature drops. Not only that, but after a black pattern disappears, it often reappears as a completely different pattern. Some change so much that they appear to be a completely different koi.

There is no end to the possibilities for subdividing Nishikigoi categories. Those listed below have their own category names or conventional names.
“Toranoko Showa Sanke” (Promotion Association classification: Kawarigoi)
“Ochiba Shigure” (Promotion Association classification: Kawarigoi)