One of the many challenges of keeping koi, besides keeping them fit and healthy can be understanding and even pronouncing their Japanese names. Each of the different varieties of koi have their own name, which is used to describe their colouration and pattern. By learning and understanding a few Japanese words and by appreciating how ‘koi lingo’ works, you will be able to communicate more effectively with other koi keepers.
Japanese is a logical language and the terms used to describe different koi varieties or colours are effectively built around a single word, adding detail at every stage. As soon as you have grasped a few Japanese words (and learned how to pronounce them as well), you will soon discover that they are used repeatedly amongst koi keepers to describe the same features on different varieties of koi. You can also use your new found vocabulary to understand which specific fish other koi keepers may be referring to.
The Japanese words and terms used to describe koi can be divided into 3 groups:
Words used to describe specific koi varieties.
Words used to add description to particular varieties.
Words used to describe other features, that may no be desirable or may not even be visible (such as age).
Words used to describe specific varieties
It is very handy being familiar with the most widely kept varieties, recognising them in the speech of other koi keepers and using them to pinpoint a particular fish in a tank of mixed varieties.
The elite and most highly regarded of varieties are collectively known as Go Sanke, and include Kohaku (white fish, red pattern), Sanke (white fish, red and black pattern), and Showa (black fish, red and white pattern).
Other varieties with black pattern include Bekko, (black markings on a coloured Koi, and Utsuri (black koi with a single coloured marking). One of the most impressive of the more popular koi varieties is the Shusui, a blue and orange koi, partially covered with large mirror-scales.
Some of the most striking koi varieties are metallic, ranging from the single coloured, pure metallic varieties (commonly described as Ogon). A yellow ogon is called a Yamabuki, while a white/platinum Ogon is called a Purachina. More complex patterns in metallic koi are also found as in Hariwake (orange/yellow metallic pattern on a paler metallic body), or the metallic forms of the various other patterned varieties (such as the Kujaku – metallic/ platinum Kohaku).
2.Terms used to add description to particular varieties Japanese terms for particular features can be used to prefix specific varieties to add further detail. For example: Words used to describe different colours …
Red = Aka, Beni Hi. Orange = Orenji. Blue = Ai. Black = Sumi. Yellow = Ki. Gold = Kin. Metallic/Silver = Gin.
So, a Ki Bekko = a yellow fish with black markings
Ki Utsuri = a black fish with yellow markings
Hi Utsuri = a black fish with red markings
A Hi Showa is a showa with a particularly heavy red pattern while a Kin Showa is a metallic Showa. (See how it works yet?)
Besides adding descriptions for colour, words can also be added to describe specific patterns.
Kindai Showa is a showa with predominantly white pattern, while any of the Go Sanke with a Tancho prefix means that the only red on the koi is found in a spot on the head. This is compared with the prefix Maruten, which describes that some of the red on the body is separated from the other red.
Koi described as Doitsu are often very striking fish. Doitsu refers to the large mirror scales (introduced through German Carp), which form a row along the dorsal and lateral lines only. The rest of the fish is scale-less, often giving the fish very intense and ‘clean’ markings
Eg, Doitsu Sanke is a Sanke (white, red and black fish, but partially covered with mirror scales). A popular variation on any scaled koi is the Kinginrin (often shortened to Ginrin), where the scales appear to sparkle as though they have been dusted with glitter, Eg. Gin Rin Kohaku = a kohaku with sparkly scales.
3.Other words used to describe additional features.
a) Kiwa – a term used to describe the sharp definition between different colours on a koi. The more clearly defined the line, the better the Kiwa.
b) Shimi – A term given to undesirable peppering with tiny black spots that can appear on koi, particularly in older fish, spoiling their pattern.
c) Tategoi – a term given to describe a juvenile koi whose true pattern and potential (and hence value) has yet to develop. These can be difficult to spot and are often priced to reflect their future value.
Besides committing the various varieties to memory, even learning and using just a handful of additional terms can help you to describe various koi features and patterns more effectively with other koi keepers. You will also be using the language that your koi will understand. A must for the serious enthusiast!