Go Sanke Koi Varieties. The Big Three.

Go Sanke is the collective name given to describe the 3 most respected varieties of koi




They are highly regarded on account of their complex genetic make up which makes high quality specimens particularly difficult to produce.


A white fish with hi (pronounce ‘he’) or red patterns. Due to the Kohaku’s colours close association with those of the Japanese flag, this is the most highly regarded variety of koi in Japan.

What to look for:

The red should be just that, – red (not dark orange) which overlays the white with clearly defined edges (good Kiwa), uniform colour showing an intense depth.

The red pattern should extend onto the head but not onto the fins or tail.

Red pattern should be well balanced (but not necessarily symmetrical) about the fish’s body, contrasting well with snow white skin.

Sumi (black) specks known as ‘shimis’ which often develop on larger and older specimens are undesirable.

Varieties of Kohaku

Different variations of Kohaku can be described on account of the pattern of red or the breeder/bloodline from which they descend. a. Variations in pattern. Prefixes such as Nidan (2), Sandon (3), Yondan (4) before kohaku refers to the number of different patches of red on the kohaku.

Tancho Kohaku refers to a white fish whose only red appears as a single patch on its head. This is true for all Go Sanke.

Breeder Description. Just as a claret wine may come from any number of different vineyards, so Kohaku may be the product of any number of breeders or farmers.

Each one will have a reputation for specific characteristics (such as pattern, depth of red etc), and just like wines, their popularities are liable to change with fashions and tastes.

Taisho Sanke – (or Sanke for short)

Sanke literally means 3 coloured and is similar to a Kohaku, but with an extra colour of black. Sanke are white fish, with red and black markings. A good Sanke is like a good Kohaku, with a well balanced distribution of patches of Sumi (black) overlaying the white. If the sumi overlays the white, it is regarded as tsubo sumi or if overlaying the red, it is called kasane sumi.

What to look for:

Similar qualities of a Kohaku (snow white, deep red, balanced pattern), but including a balanced pattern of darkest black

No sumi (black)is present on the head, first appearing on the shoulder.

Fins can be snow white or carry a black marking, preferably present in stripes

Black patches are well defined, rather than areas where black appears to blend with red or white.

Showa Sanshoku, (usually abbreviated to Showa)

At first appearance these look very similar to Sanke. Showa are a 3 coloured fish (black, red and white), but where Sanke was a white fish with red and black markings,

Showa are black fish with red and white markings.

A useful distinguishing feature between Showa and Sanke (although most recent Showa’s can be an exception), is that Showa’s have black on their head – and Sanke do not.

Black also appears on the root of the fins and the body bands of black will drop below the lateral line.

Also available in Doitsu.

All Go Sanke are available as Doitsu fish, where patterns are typical of each variety, but will be displayed on a scale-less fish, barring the rows of scales along the dorsal and lateral line. As the colouration on Doitsu fish are not displayed on scales but on the smooth skin, colours and borders between patterns often appear superior in quality. The purist still prefers the fully scaled varieties of Go Sanke.

Kill blanketweed and string algae.