Complete Guide to Tancho Koi 2020 [Updated]


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Guide to Tancho Koi Varieties, Care, Size, Diet & Costs 2020 [Updated]

how to identify tancho koi
All koi, including Tancho, are descendents 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. Indeed, the commonly held belief that koi are descended from the common carp (Cyprinus carpio) is now supported by mtDNA sequencing, which also confirmed that breeding 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. The DNA studies referenced above 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 good will and peace, these colorful, specially bred carp were most often gifted to those with political and economic power as a gesture of good will and peace. 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.

Tancho koi in particular are found and accepted in three koi breeds: the Kohaku koi, Sanke (taisho sanshoku) koi, and Showa (showa sanshoku) koi. Two koi varieties, Goshiki and Hariwake, sometimes display a red marking atop their heads and this can be mistakenly thought to be Tancho. However, true Tanchos only exist amongst the Gosanke varieties; Goshiki and Hariwake with a similar pattern will compete in a separate class from Tanchos.

What Does Tancho Mean?

tancho koi name meaning
The red-crowned crane, known as Tancho in Japanese, is this koi’s namesake. GruenesMonster72 / CC BY-SA 2.0

Most closely translating to “red sun,” Tancho koi have a single red circle atop their head. Regardless of the exact variety of Tancho, this can be the only red on the entire fish – there must be no other Hi markings anywhere else. Tancho are regarded in particularly high esteem in Japan due to their resemblance to the Japanese flag as well as to the red-crowned crane. This bird is also the koi’s namesake, as “Tancho” is the Japanese name for the red-crowned crane.

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Tancho Varieties & How to Identify Them 

tancho sanke tancho showa tancho kohaku
The three accepted Tancho varieties from left to right: Tancho Sanke, Tancho Showa & Tancho Kohaku. Maxikoi / CC BY-SA; randychiu / CC BY-NC 2.0KoiQuestion / CC BY-SA 2.0

As stated above, a Tancho koi can only have a single red spot atop the crown of its head – if Hi markings exist anywhere else, it is not a Tancho. Below we’ll help you identify the three primary Tancho varieties.

1) Tancho Kohaku

Kohaku koi were one of the first consistently bred koi varieties, achieving great popularity as early as the 1890s, only a few years after commercial breeding of Kohaku began in 1888. The first Kohaku was likely actually a product of a genetic mutation, much like the black panther (these are actually species of leopard or jaguar, not panther).

While this mutation benefitted black leopards and jaguars, making it easier for them to hunt at night, thus causing the mutation to stick around in nature, carp do not naturally possess red or orange markings – these would be more likely to attract predators! But these markings also attracted the admiring eyes of humans, and so the Kohaku lineage was encouraged and has since formed the base of almost all other koi varieties.

Kohaku possess only white and red or orange coloration, nothing more or less. A Tancho Kohaku, in particular, is entirely white aside from the large red spot atop its head.


2) Tancho Sanke

Taisho Sanshoku koi, commonly known as Sanke, first arose from a (harmless) genetic mutation in the late 1800s and began being bred in the 1910s during the Taisho Emperor’s rule, giving rise to this popular breed’s name. Their striking red and white coloration with black accent patterning, called Sumi, make them a visual treat with plenty of variation possibility.

Tancho Sanke have, again, a single red spot atop their head. There should be no other coloration, whether red or black, on the head aside from this spot, and no red elsewhere on the body, either, though Sumi can exist anywhere on the body.


3) Tancho Showa

Showa koi must possess black skin (called Sumi) covered with red to red-orange markings (Hi) and white (Shiroji) markings atop it. 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.

A Tancho Showa has the characteristic red sun marking atop the head between the eyes, with white on the rest of the head and body. Sumi can exist anywhere, even within the red spot.


How to Appreciate & Judge Tancho Koi 

A best in show Tancho koi. KoiQuestion / CC BY-SA 2.0

The appreciating and judgement of Tancho traits is much the same as for they are for Gosanke koi in general, with, of course, a couple of specific added requirements.

The judging of Tancho, as with any koi, can depend on the location and the judges themselves. For example, in Japan where koi keeping and competitions are a distinct part of their history, judging can be more subjective and some judges may have some bias based on bloodline. For example, it’s possible that a judge in Japan may ignore some physical characteristics if they recognize an expensive or old bloodline. So 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, but generally speaking, Tancho koi are held in fairly high esteem whether in Asia, the UK, or the US due to their uncommonness. Overall, there are generally a particular set of guidelines that are followed when appreciating and judging Tancho koi. These guidelines will differ depending on the particular type of Tancho, whether Kohaku, Sanke, or Showa.

General Guidelines for Judging Gosanke

how tancho koi are judged
The “red sun” atop the head of a Tancho should exist high atop the head between the eyes. Any white should be bright and not off-white or yellowy. Kirill Ignatyev / CC BY-NC 2.0

The fish should not have any abnormalities, such as missing fins, misshapen mouth, or bruises (unless they were accidentally caused during transportation). Parasites, ulcers, or other forms of illness should not be present in the fish.

Symmetry is of perhaps the greatest importance. The way that the Shiro and Sumi are arranged, depending on the koi variety, 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.

In Sanke koi, Sumi shouldn’t spread past or below the lateral line of the head or below the ribs, approximately. Instead, they should be located relatively high atop the head or back. With Showa koi, however, the Sumi can and should extend below this lateral line, appearing to almost wrap about the fish.

In Showa and Sanke, Sumi markings on the body should not exist past the caudal peduncle. The caudal peduncle is the narrow area where the tail fin connects to the body. In all Gosanke, the Shiro, or white, portions should be quite white, not off-white. There should be absolutely no yellow tinge anywhere – this is indicative of an improper diet (likely too high in color enhancers) or poor breeding and care.

In Sanke, any Sumi markings should not form large blocks of black. Instead, black markings should look like a paintbrush was gently, briefly touched against the koi, rather than stroked across its body or poured in large patches. In Showa, however, the Sumi can be thick and large, though it doesn’t have to be.


Tancho Specific Judging Guidelines

tancho showa koi
In Tancho Showa, some judges prefer the Sumi to exist outside of the Tancho spot, while others don’t mind if they overlap. KoiQuestion / CC BY-SA 2.0

Tancho koi should not have any markings on the head aside from the red spot if entering into competition, with the exception of Tancho Showa, which can have Sumi on the head. Some judges may make an exception if they feel that it somehow balances the fish more, but typically it’s regarded as an inferior trait.

Furthermore, the Tancho Hi marking should not extend below the lateral line of the fish’s head – this means that red should exist approximately above and between the eyes.

The exact hue of the Tancho Hi isn’t as important – it can range from orange to bright cherry-red. So long as the entire marking is the same shade, the exact shading doesn’t matter so much, though note that some judges do prefer deeper red Hi while others like a bright red-orange Hi. The shade of the Sumi markings, if present, should be as thick and dark as wet ink, with the exception of muted sub-varieties like Boke.


Keeping Tancho – Health, Growth & Diet

1) Tancho Water Quality

Tancho koi are more obviously sensitive to water quality parameters, as are any sub-variety within the three Gosanke types. We say “obviously” because you will be able to visually tell by looking at your koi if your parameters are off.

For example, a diet too high in color enhancers, like spirulina, will 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. Water that is too hard or has a high pH can lead to the development of black specks that are different from Sumi, while soft water lends to increased Hi (and thus may make successfully breeding Tancho even more difficult).


2) Price of Tancho

If you’re considering purchasing a Tancho, keep in mind that they almost always more expensive fish due to the inability of being able to breed them reliably or consistently. 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.


3) Tancho Temperature

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


4) Tancho Gender

If coloration is of great importance to you, the sex of the Tancho should be considered. Simply due to hormones, male Tancho koi tend to develop their red coloration earlier in development, but it will also fade more quickly as they age. Females, however, usually take longer to fully acquire their Hi, but will maintain it more consistently later in life.


5) Tancho Diet

To help develop and maintain healthy coloration, Tancho 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 Tancho koi 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, if present, that appear more blue than black.


How to Breed Tancho Koi

how to breed kohaku koi
Breeding Tancho can be a gamble, as the offspring can be very different from the parent fish. KoiQuestion/ CC BY-SA 2.0

If you’re looking to breed your koi for the purpose of obtaining Tancho coloration, do keep in mind that this is rather tricky.

The development of a Tancho koi is rather unpredictable thanks to the multitude of genetic alleles responsible for koi coloration and pattern, so this variety is often highly sought after due to its rarity and inability to be bred consistently or in great numbers, even amongst the Gosanke varieties. If you wish to have a specific variety of koi, such as Tancho, there’s always a significant chance that even breeding with two Tancho parents will yield offspring that look entirely different.

A very basic Punnett square shows a few of the possibilities with Tancho parents, with R meaning red head (in reference to the red spot on the head of Tancho Kohaku), while W means white body. White is the dominant color allele, always, meaning it’s more likely to be selected when present over the allele(s) responsible for red coloration.

kohaku koi breeding genetics
Image Copyright © Pond Informer.

The results of this rudimentary genetic prediction show that the offspring have a 25% chance of being entirely red, a 25% chance of having a red head and a white body, a 25% chance of having a white head and red body, and a 25% chance of being entirely white. This only takes into account two factors – there are many more involved, as mentioned in the previous paragraph, so certainly do not take the above figure as an absolute measure by any means. This is just to give you an idea that obtaining exact features and varieties, like Tancho, is often quite difficult.


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

buy tancho koi price
Tancho tend to be more expensive fish, with metallic Gin Rin Tancho being particularly pricy. randychiu / CC BY-SA 2.0

Except to pay a pretty penny (or a whole lot of them) to obtain a Tancho, particularly if you’re buying from a registered, professional breeder and/or for the purpose of competing. Tancho Showa are often the most expensive of the three, usually averaging several thousand dollars or pounds, while Tancho Kohaku can sometimes be found on the lower end for a few hundred dollars.

There are other traits that contribute to price – Gin Rin and Kin koi have metallic scales that can result in a very hefty price tag, particularly when combined with the rare Tancho pattern. Regardless, keep in mind that buying a larger, more mature Tancho comes with a heftier price tag than buying a juvenile!

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!

Tancho 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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