Guide to Showa Sanshoku Koi 2020 [Updated]


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Guide to Showa Sanshoku Koi Patterns, Care, Size, Diet & Costs 2020

showa koi breeding and judging
All koi, including Showa, are descendants of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio).

Koi have been around for thousands of years, with modern koi carp breeding practices originating in Japan and China around approximately the 4th century. In fact, mtDNA sequencing supports the commonly held belief that koi are descendants of the common carp (Cyprinus carpio), which the sequencing found originated in East Asia. This idea was previously highly contested, and still sometimes argued despite mounting evidence.

Since the 4th century (301 to 400 AD), there has been an explosion in the number of koi breeds, patterns, and colorations available thanks to the aquaculture industry. Indeed, the aforementioned DNA studies also determined that the large scale domestication of carp and subsequent breeding of them to obtain brightly colored varieties and unique patterns occurred in China beginning around 6,000 B.C.

As a gesture of goodwill and peace, these colorful, specially bred carp were most often gifted to those with political and economic power. This is how they initially made their way to Europe and, eventually, the Americas, becoming beloved pets now known widely as “koi” rather than symbols of power and wealth.

Showa Sanshoku, one of the gosanke or “big three” along with Kohaku and Taisho Sanshoku (Sanke) koi, came about in 1927. A breeder by the name of Jukichi Hoshino crossed a Kohaku (white and red coloration) with a ki utsuri (yellow with black bands). Showa didn’t gain much steam initially, as the yellow of the ki utsuri bestowed the resulting Showa offspring with dull, off-color reds and whites.

It wasn’t really until the 1960’s when another breeder, Tomiji Kobayashi, paired his Showas with Kohakus possessing intensely red coloration, resulting in more attractive Showas now commonly known as Kobayashi Showa. This line is what most modern Showas are based off of, and is commonly referred to as the old style Showa.

What does Showa Sanshoku Mean?

Showa Sanshoku translates into a two-part meaning. The first, Showa, is in reference to the name of the emperor who was in power from 1901 to 1989 when this koi line was initially developed.

The second, Sanshoku, breaks down into “san,” Japanese for “three,” and “shoku” means “colors,” so this refers to the koi’s white, red, and black coloring. Showa is simply the abbreviated name for these koi, and is what they’re most often called.

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Showa Varieties & How to Identify Them 

types of showa koi
Showa koi come in many varieties. Pictured are a doitsu kindai (L) and a tancho (R). KoiQuestion / CC BY-NC 2.0randychiu / CC BY-NC 2.0

Though all Showa must possess black skin (called Sumi) covered with red to red-orange markings (Hi) and white (Shiroji) markings atop it, there are many different varieties of Showa that encompass various types of patterns and arrangements.

Showa can, at times, be confused with Sanke. The key difference is that Sanke koi have white base skin with black spots that do not extend below the lateral line, or onto the head, while Showa have black skin that appears through white and red markings.

The Sumi base on Showa appear more like thick bands than spots (though spotting is not uncommon). These Sumi bands and spots can extend past the lateral line and onto the head. Showa may also have black spotting or rays on the pectoral fins, called motogoro, while Sanke usually have entirely white fins or will have some Sumi stripes (not spots) on the fin(s).

Varieties According to Markings on the Body

1) Hi Showa

Hi Showa are predominately red, with a fair amount of Sumi showing through and very little, if any, white. The red should all be interconnected, like large islands.


2) Kindai Showa

Kindai Showa are dominated by white coloration (40% or more), all connected. There can be varying amounts of Hi and Sumi.


3) Old Style Showa

The old style Showa are, as might be inferred, one of the original Showa bloodlines. These Showa are mostly black with very little white, with red being the secondary color. A typical standard to go by is 40% or more black, 40% or less red, and 20% or less white.


4) Doitsu Showa

Doitsu Showa can be any of the above (or combination thereof), except they are Doitsu. This means that the koi actually lacks scales, aside from some broad scales along their lateral line and dorsal fin.


5) Kin Showa

Kin Showa can possess any of the above patterning, but have a gold, metallic sheen. The effect may appear to sparkle with only a slight hint or gold, or obvious gold.

6) Gin Rin Showa

Similar to Kin Showa, but the metallic sheen is more of a silver tone. A koi with a combination of the two is known as kin-gin-rin, which translates approximately to “gold and silver scales.”

7) Ai Showa

A Showa that possesses blue or deep indigo speckles all over the body.


Varieties According to Markings on the Head

1) Maruten Showa

Koi with this pattern have a red spot on the head that is called a “crown.” There are also other red patches on the rest of the body, with variable patterning. Red, white, and black can also exist anywhere on the body.


2) Tancho Showa

Meaning “red sun,” Tancho Showa have a single red marking atop their head, with white on the rest of the head and body. Sumi can exist anywhere, even within the red spot.


3) Maruten

The translation for Maruten is a bit rough, but koi with this pattern have a red spot on the head that is called a “crown.” There are also other red patches on the rest of the body, with variable patterning. The characteristic black patterning of Sanke koi can be found anywhere on the back, on red or white plates.


4) Boke Showa

Boke Showa have a muted appearance – Hi and Shiroji are usually still vibrant (but not always), while the Sumi markings appear more blurred and grey than sharp and black.


5) Menware & Hachiware Showa

These are not so much varieties as they are patterns that are commonly sought after in Showa. Menware refers to a lighting-shaped Sumi pattern that typically runs from base of the head to the nose or mouth. Hachiware is the name given to a Sumi pattern that runs from gill to gill at the base of the head like a collar or yoke. It can also form a V or Y pattern extending onto the face. Both of these patterns are highly sought after by judges in competitions.


How to Appreciate & Judge Showa Koi 

KoiQuestion / CC BY-NC 2.0

The judging of Showa, as with any koi, can depend on the location and the judges themselves. In Japan, for example, where koi keeping and competitions are a distinct part of the history and culture, judging can be more subjective and some judges may have biases based on bloodline.

For instance, it’s possible that a judge in Japan may ignore some physical characteristics if they recognize an expensive or old bloodline. Therefore, a fish may lose in Japan for being less expensive due to coming from an “inferior” bloodline, but could win elsewhere based on other factors. Oftentimes, the exact criteria are adjusted based on the judges.

Overall, though, there are generally a particular set of guidelines that are followed when appreciating and judging Showa koi. There is some differentiation in guidelines depending on the exact variety of Showa.

General Guidelines for Judging Showa

Overall, the same rules that apply to Kohaku and Taisho Sanshoku (Sanke) also apply to Showa. We’ll go over them again below, and include any considerations unique to Showa.

The fish should not have any abnormalities, such as missing fins, misshapen mouth, or bruises (unless they were accidentally caused during transportation). Sanke should also not have any parasites, ulcers, or other forms of illness.


Pattern Symmetry 

old style showa koi hachiware koi
Patterning should be fairly symmetrical, with Sumi markings appearing to wrap thickly around the body. randychiu / CC BY-NC 2.0

Symmetry is of perhaps the greatest importance. The way that the Hi and Sumi are arranged from front to back and side to side should be balanced and fairly symmetrical (not strictly symmetrical) – patterns that only exist on one side of the spine will lend a lopsided appearance, and less likely to be judged favorably. Patterns that are unique are also favored. The fish should also have a proportional, symmetrical head with proportional, symmetrical fins.

Unlike with Sanke and Kohaku, Sumi markings and Hi plates, respectively, can and should extend below the lateral line of the Showa’s head or back – this means that red or black can spread past or below the ribs. In fact, the Sumi should appear as though it’s wrapping around the fish’s body; it’s often a bonus if the Hi does so as well. In terms of fins, it’s preferable that Showa have motogoro, or black markings at the base of each pectoral fin that extend to approximately the first one-third of the fin, with the rest being white.


Judging the Head

showa koi judging guidelines
Sumi on the nose and in a Y or V pattern on the head are often viewed favorably by judges. randychiu / CC BY-NC 2.0

Showa koi must have, most importantly, Sumi on the head. It’s preferable for them to have all three colors on their head, and for the Sumi to be in a Menware or Hachiware pattern as discussed previously. Ideally, the red, white, and black should not interrupt one another but rather should flow about one another. This is difficult to accomplish, though, as breeding specific traits is unpredictable even amongst experts.

Having some white on the head prevents the fish from having too dark or stark of an appearance, but again this factor is somewhat dependent on the judge and variety (Hi Showa are much less likely to have this feature). Though not necessary, Showa with Sumi on their nose are often favored by judges.


Judging the Body

A Showa’s Shiroji should be a vivid white, like that of snow, without any yellow or off-color pigmentation to it. The edges of all markings, whether red, white, or black, should be very sharp and defined with the exception of Boke Showa. Unlike with Sanke and Kohaku, the tail can possess red or black coloration in Showa. However, Showa can have a tendency to possess the largest amount of Sumi toward their tails; this is not generally favored by judges and is referred to as “tail heavy.”

The exact hue of the Hi plates isn’t as important – these can range from orange to bright cherry-red. So long as all Hi plates on the fish are the same shade, the exact shading doesn’t matter so much, though note that some judges do prefer a deeper red Hi while others like a bright red-orange Hi. The shade of the Sumi markings should be as thick and dark as wet ink, again with the exception of Boke Showa.


Keeping Showa – Health, Growth & Diet

showa koi water quality
As with any koi, Showa can grow quite large so the cost of diet and water quality maintenance should be taken into account when purchasing. randychiu / CC BY-NC 2.0

1) Price of Showa

Like most varieties of specially-bred koi, Showa are often more expensive fish. In addition, you must factor in maintenance needs such as food and water quality. As with any koi, you’ll need to have proper filtration and aeration features in place that will range in price depending on the size of your pond.


2) Showa Temperature

Though lacking solid scientific evidence to back this up, some argue that water temperature plays a role in the appearance of Sanke koi. Apparently, like with Kohaku and Sanke, colder water lends to Showa with darker red coloration, while warmer waters lend to a more orange-red Hi. Showa, like Sanke, prefer water temperatures between about 13 & 26° C, or 55 to 79° F.


3) Showa Gender & Age

Due to hormones, females will take longer to fully develop red and black coloring, but once they have it, it will last later into life.  Males, on the other hand, often develop their coloring earlier, but it fades more quickly as they age.

A true Showa starts its life entirely or mostly black, as this is the base color of their skin. As they grow older, they develop more Shiroji and Hi markings. Juvenile Showa may have Sumi that appear grey or lackluster – in time, this will likely become a proper, inky black. Regardless of gender, it can take several years for full coloration to ripen on a Showa, so you must be patient and enjoy the visual journey that your Showa takes you on!


4) Showa Diet

To help develop and maintain healthy coloration, Showa koi are often fed diets with color enhancers, such as those containing spirulina or krill, as well as those with ample (>30%) protein to aid in proper growth. These are of lesser importance if you don’t wish to show your fish at shows.  Otherwise, though, the dietary needs of Showa are much the same as most other koi.

It should be noted that a diet too high in color enhancers, like spirulina, carotene, and xanthophyll, may cause the white portions of the fish to take on more of a yellow tint. It can also cause off-color spotting in the red areas and Sumi that appear more blue than black.


How to Breed Showa Koi For Color & Pattern

showa koi breeding
Showa koi were originally bred from Kohaku. randychiu / CC BY-NC 2.0

As with any specific koi variety, trying to breed your Showa to obtain more Showa or another sub-variety is quite tricky. We reviewed a study conducted on Kohaku koi genetics, finding the results to be applicable to Showa as Kohaku form the base of Showa. This study found that the trait responsible for Kohaku (and, as an extension, Showa) coloring is dependent on many different genes and dozens of alleles; it can take several generations to obtain offspring with appropriate Showa coloring. In fact, even when both parents are Showa, there is only an average 30% likelihood of any of the offspring being Showa!

For a visual representation of the difficulty of breeding koi for specific varieties, please consult the Punnett square in our Kohaku koi article. To create a fairly basic visual representation of Showa genetics would involve creating a tri-hybrid Punnett square (and that would just represent the color possibilities, nothing else), which gets quite complex! Trust us when we say that an awful lot goes into breeding any Gosanke, particularly Showa.


What is the Cost of Showa & Where to Buy Showa?

how much do showa koi cost
Showa koi range greatly in price, with Hi Showa typically being on the lower end.

Most pond-quality koi run somewhere between $10 and $100 (about 7 to 76£). Showa koi tend to be more expensive due to the selective and careful breeding needed to obtain distinct varieties. Of the big three koi varieties, Showa are typically the most expensive, with even mid-grade Showa coming in sometimes at several thousand pounds or dollars and high quality, and champion line competition Showa costing up to tens of thousands of dollars/pounds.

It is possible to find juvenile or adult Showa for several hundred dollars/pounds, and baby or very young Showa for even less. Depending on where you get them, and whether or not bloodline, or “show quality,” is of concern to you, Showa can be as little as $15 (11.4£) if you buy them when they’re small. On average, expect to spend at around couple of hundred pounds or dollars.

Gin rin and kin rin Showa are often the most expensive Showa varieties – some have been sold for many millions of dollars, prized for their metallic, diamond-like scales. Hi and Kindai Showa are typically on the cheaper end, but price largely depends on the breeder, retailer, and parents.

Saving money is always nice, but consider that oftentimes very cheap koi, regardless of the variety, may have originated from mass fish-farms and could have health issues. Certainly do your own research, though, to find what works best for you in terms of variety and price!

Showa Sanshoku can be purchased from some physical stores, but are most easily obtained via online outlets. Be sure to do plenty of research on each company, though, to ensure ethical treatment of the fish and safe shipping standards.

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