Koi (鯉): Carp

Koi means Carp in Japanese, and this fish is a symbol of perseverance due to the fish’s tendency to swim upstream and resist the flow of water. Koi Carp also symbolise faithfulness and marriage in Japan. A design of carp swimming against rapids symbolises the Children’s Day Festival on May 5th. This is to inspire children to work hard in order to succeed.

Koi are a colorful, ornamental versions of the common carp. Though carp domestication is believed to have begun in China as far back as the 4th century, modern Japanese koi are believed to date back to early 19th-century Japan where wild, colorful carp were caught, kept and bred by rice farmers. There are now dozens of different color varieties of koi.

Koi varieties are distinguished by coloration, patterning, and scalation. Some of the major colors are white, black, red, yellow, blue, and cream. Although the possible colors are virtually limitless, breeders have identified and named a number of specific categories. The most notable category is Gosanke, which is made up of the Kohaku, Taisho Sanshoku, and Showa Sanshoku varieties.

  • Kōhaku (紅白) is a white-skinned koi, with large red markings on the top. The name means “red and white”; kohaku was the first ornamental variety to be established in Japan (late 19th century).
  • Taishō Sanshoku (or Taishō Sanke) (大正三色) is very similar to the kohaku, except for the addition of small black markings called sumi (墨). This variety was first exhibited in 1914 by the koi breeder Gonzo Hiroi, during the reign of the Taishō Emperor. In the United States, the name is often abbreviated to just “Sanke”. The kanji, 三色, may be read as either sanshoku or as sanke (from its earlier name 三毛).
  • Shōwa Sanshoku (or Showa Sanke) (昭和三色) is a black koi with red (hi 緋) and white (shiroji 白地) markings. The first Showa Sanke was exhibited in 1927, during the reign of the Shōwa Emperor. In America, the name is often abbreviated to just “Showa”. The amount of shiroji on Showa Sanke has increased in modern times (Kindai Showa 近代昭和), to the point that it can be difficult to distinguish from Taisho Sanke. The kanji, 三色, may be read as either sanshoku or as sanke.

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