Whilst Nishikigoi may come in a huge array of different colours there are no more varieties made up of any two colours than black and white, from Shiro Utsuri and Shiro Bekko through to rather more exotic varieties like Ginga, and of course we have Ginrin and Doitsu variants across them all.
In this article we’ll take a look at many of these different varieties, their history, and also points of appreciation.
Black Koi originated many years ago, according to the genealogy chart in Amano’s ‘Live Jewels – General Survey of Fancy Carp’, as a mutation from Asagi Magoi. The Karasugoi, a jet black carp, named after the crow (karasu), of course itself a jet black bird. The Karasugoi further mutated to bring us a whole line of black and white Koi including Kumonryu and Matuskawabake and thereafter many more modern varieties such as Kikokuryu, which we’ll look at in detail later.
The image below appears in the record book kept by Chuzo and Torakichi Kawakami, great grandfather and grandfather respectively of Tsuyoshi Kawakami of Torazo Koi Farm. The book records Koi which were of particular interest to the Kawakamis at the time, some parent Koi, some Koi they purchased, and some Koi owned by others. This image was made around 1920 and is the only black and white Koi that is recorded in the book, although many Ki Utsuri appear. No Shiro Bekko appear either.
The caption on the image says ‘Tani no yuki’ which translates as ‘Snow Valley’, a name which is quite self explanatory
Let’s start by looking more closely at Shiro Utsuri, arguably the most commonly encountered black and white variety, and certainly the most advanced in terms of development.
Considered by many as the 4th Gosanke variety, alongside Kohaku, Sanke and Showa, since 2012 Shiro Utsuri has had its own show class at the All Japan Koi Show, separating it from Hi Utsuri and Ki Utsuri. In many other shows you will find Utsuri grouped with Showa, a recognition of their heritage. For several years Shiro Utsuri were judged in the Miyabi group with Kohaku, Sanke and Showa, however in 2019 they were moved back into the Sakura group, somewhat demonstrating that in reality, however refined they are as a variety, they still cannot challenge the big 3.
The first Shiro Utsuri are said to have come from Magoi lineage, created in 1925 by Kazuo Minemura in Mushigame Village, Yamakoshi. However, modern day Shiro Utsuri have benefitted significantly from the effort put into Showa and have developed out of Showa production hence the subtle variations we see between the style of sumi on Hi and Ki Utsuri compared to Shiro Utsuri, and the difference in the pectoral fins of Shiro Utsuri which typically exhibit motoguro, whereas Hi and Ki Utsuri pectoral fins are either solid coloured or striped.
Much of the modern development and history of Shiro Utsuri production can be attributed to Omosako Koi Farm, a name synonymous with the variety, however Takashi Omosako didn’t start breeding until 1980. Prior to that it was the late great Hiroji Sakai first found fame as a Shiro Utsuri breeder winning Grand Champion at the 1st All Chugoku Koi Show with Sakai Fish Farm bred Shiro Utsuri in 1978. The head judge at the show, Kunio Shinoda, wrote in Rinko magazine at the time, ‘The Shiro Utsuri stood above other Gosanke Koi with its thick pure white background. Although the completion of its sumi markings is still on its way to being perfect, there is no trace of hi markings on the body. Furthermore, the pattern of sumi markings, arranged from the head to the tail, gives the fish an elegant atmosphere. Among other male Koi, its plump body with sharp contrast of black and white is outstanding. If there is anything bad that can be said about this fish, its head is a little too narrow, and because of its elegance, it can’t be denied it is lacking in powerfulness.’
Sakai Fish Farm bred Shiro Utsuri would be the foundation of Shiro Utsuri production at Omosako Koi Farm starting with a fish which had won Best in Variety prize at the 1978 ZNA Koi Show. Shiro Utsuri are of course bred on many farms, invariably all will have an element of Omosako blood somewhere in the mix and, whilst excellent examples can be found at breeders throughout Japan, it cannot be denied that the best jumbo specimens are unquestionably produced by Omosako Koi Farm.
Many of the comments made by the judge back in 1978 remain the foundation of Shiro Utsuri appreciation nowadays and below we’ll take a look at some special examples which have graced the show stage over the last few years.
As we’re talking about Omosako Koi Farm it’s probably fitting to start with arguably their most famous and instantly recognisable of Shiro Utsuri, the Koi known as Musashi.
Named after a Japanese battleship, Musashi was an incredibly important parent fish, as well as show winner. The development photos above showing her from the age of 3, 5, 6 and 7. According to Takashi Omosako from an early age her sumi quality and body shape were incredibly obvious factors, even if the sumi pattern and development were far from obvious at that age.
Looking at Musashi it’s not difficult to appreciate what makes it a very very special example of Shiro Utsuri. It used to be said that take away the red from a Showa and you have a good Shiro Utsuri, and although in some respects this holds true, it’s very simplistic, as is the similar example of take the red from a Sanke and you get a good Shiro Bekko. However, there are certainly aspects of the comparison to Showa appreciation that certainly apply to Shiro Utsuri and Musashi particularly. Starting from the head we have an interesting hachiware pattern splitting the head before the bright white break across the broad shoulders, frame either side with balanced motoguro in the pectoral fins. The large white area of the shoulders transitions into the solid black saddle in front of the dorsal fin before the pattern becomes more delicate as it works its way through the tail tube where an important white break appears before the tail. Without this break the heavy pattern would perhaps appear just a little too heavy, indeed for some this pattern is perhaps already too heavy for personal taste.
Whilst the quality of the white and the quality of the black are prerequisites for a quality Shiro Utsuri, the style in which the colours are presented on the body, and the entire style of the pattern they create, is somewhat more flexible.
Another example below from Omosako Koi Farm which gives a completely different impression to Musashi above, and many will undoubtedly find her subtlety more attractive. When differentiating sumi on Shiro Utsuri and Shiro Bekko (as well as on Showa and Sanke) the Utsuri and Showa sumi is often described as wrapping the body from underneath, whilst Bekko and Sanke sumi sits upon the Koi. On the example below we can perhaps see that somewhat clearer than on Musashi. If we look at the left hand side of the body we can see the solid area of sumi and it appears almost like fingers wrapping up around the body, very characteristic of Shiro Utsuri (and Showa) sumi, although the boundaries between the Shiro Utsuri and Bekko (and more so Showa and Sanke) seem to be forever blurred by an increasing number of examples.
This example was displayed as part of Omosako Koi Farms ‘dream Koi’ exhibit at the 2013 All Japan Koi Show. Whilst looking on Omosako Koi Farm’s Facebook page for some examples I noted that I commented at the time ‘that is a dream Shiro Utsuri for sure’, I was not alone in admiration for the Koi. Whist we have big bold blocks of sumi on this Shiro Utsuri it is perhaps the white ground that dominates.
Another Shiro Utsuri which was part of Omosako’s Dream Koi exhibit in 2013. A different bloodline and a different style, the solid blocks giving way to a much more intricate pattern, nonetheless the thick solid sumi contrast with significant amounts of white skin too.
‘Orca’, Best in Variety at the 2015 All Japan Koi Show is another major show winner which went on to become a parent at Omosako Koi Farm. The sumi and white ground creating an almost checkerboard type reflective pattern on the superbly impressive body giving equal proportions to white and black.
The 3 Shiro Utsuri below were photographed back in 2013 at Yagenji Koi Farm, all siblings, they again demonstrate different styles which Shiro Utsuri can take.
If we start with the Koi on the right hand side we very much have a Shiro Utsuri in the style of Musashi, thick heavy sumi pattern from front to back, also exhibiting a classic and often seen reflective pattern from side to side, black opposite white. The Koi on the left a much more delicate style of sumi pattern on a larger expanse of white. The middle example somewhat of a blend between the two, lots of white ground, yet the sumi forms large solid blocks.
As mentioned, whilst the super jumbo Shiro Utsuri may be rather the monopoly of Omosako Koi Farm presently, there are a number of other breeders whose Koi compete on a level playing field in the smaller sizes.
Listed below are some of the other farms in Japan where you can find high quality Shiro Utsuri on a regular basis.
- Kaneko Koi Farm
- Kawakami Koi Farm
- Koshiji Koi Farm
- Marusen-Kobayashi Koi Farm
- Nishikigoi Niigata Direct
- Yagenji Koi Farm
- Yamanakaoya Koi Farm
- Omosako Koi Farm
- Tamaura Koi Farm
- Ogata Koi Farm
- Okawa Nishikigoi Centre
GINRIN SHIRO UTSURI
Like almost all varieties, Shiro Utsuri are available in a Ginrin variant, the scales typically shining brighter on the white ground than on the sumi. Invariably when the ginrin does fall upon the sumi the depth of colour is diminished.
Ginrin Shiro Utsuri, such as the example below can be extremely imposing.
On occasion you’ll find Ginrin Shiro Utsuri such as the example below where the sumi is so strong and thick that the ginrin scales do not appear on the sumi at all creating a particular imposing contrast.
The example below won the 35bu Sakura Prize at the 2020 All Japan Koi Show. Similar to the example above, the sumi strength blocks the ginrin from showing, it appears only on the white ground. Koi of this size are of course judged in plastic bags at the All Japan Koi Show and this particular example absolutely glowed as it lined up with other Ginrin B entries. It was no surprise to see it competing for the major prize later in the day.
Whilst some breeders do target production of Ginrin Shiro Utsuri specifically, many you will find are offspring of Ginrin Showa spawning. Breeders where you can typically find them include:
- Hiroi Koi Farm
- Kawakami Koi Farm
- Okawa Nishikigoi Centre
- Omosako Koi Farm
- Shinoda Koi Farm
DOITSU SHIRO UTSURI
Doitsu Shiro Utsuri are perhaps not as common as would be expected. I’m not aware of any breeder specifically breeding them, indeed they are almost always a by product of Doitsu Showa spawning. Really good examples are very unusual to find.
Below are two examples both bred by Hiroi Koi Farm who of course are also famous for producing Doitsu Showa.
The first was offered for sale as part of Ryuki Narita’s ‘R’s Collection’ in December 2015, the ￥600,000 price tag reflecting its rarity.
The second was offered at the Niigata Breeder Auction in March 2018.
Doitsu Shiro Utsuri are often confused with Kumonryu (or perhaps it should be said the other way round), of course Kumonryu also a Doitsugoi with black and white pattern. Later we’ll look at what typically differentiates Doitsu Shiro Utsuri and Kumonryu (and likewise Hajiro/Matsukawabake from scaled Shiro Utsuri).
If you want to find one, then as suggested, Doitsu Showa breeders are your best bet with Hiroi and Shinoda being good places to look.
Gin Shiro are the metallic version of Shiro Utsuri, a variety which seems to attract little interest from breeders and/or hobbyists compared to some of the other black and white varieties we’ll feature. To find good and large examples is unusual, as with the Doitsu Shiro Utsuri, generally a by product of Kin Showa (Metallic Showa) spawning.
As can be seen in both examples below, the first part of Ryuki Narita’s ‘R’s Collection’ in Autumn 2019, the second offered for sale in the 2019 Niigata Breeders Auction, one of typical traits of Gin Shiro is that the sumi is weak in depth. This is equally typical of the Sumi on Kin Showa. A side effect of that is that patterns lack definition and the black can appear mottled. As we’ll see later in the article, we are now seeing metallic black and white varieties like Kikokuryu and Ginga with thick black pigmentation, which perhaps makes them more attractive to hobbyists than Gin Shiro.
Gin Shiro, along with Kin Showa and Kin Ki Utsuri are entered into the Hikari Utsuri show class and, commonly around the world, it’s a very undersubscribed show class.
DOITSU GIN SHIRO
Given that we’ve stated Doitsu Shiro Utsuri and Gin Shiro are both pretty rare, then it will come as no surprise that Doitsu Gin Shiro are even rarer. When this article was originally published in September 2020 I couldn’t locate a picture of a good Doitsu Gin Shiro to include with it.
In November 2020 the Koi below was included within the Niigata Breeders Auction, bred by Nishikigoi Niigata Direct.
KAGE SHIRO UTSURI
The final Shiro Utsuri variant for this first part of the ‘Black and White’ article, Kage Shiro Utsuri, a speciality variety of a few farms, perhaps most notably Otsuka and Hosokai, and perhaps unsurprisingly they both specialise in Asagi too.
Kage Shiro Utsuri, sometimes called Kageshiro, feature an Asagi background overlaid with a solid Shiro Utsuri sumi pattern.
Finding truly refined examples of this variety is not easy, all too often the ‘Asagi’ background is just a blurred grey without detail in the scalation. Likewise the sumi does not form deep defined utsuri pattern. In a 2015 interview in Rinko magazine Yoshikazu Otsuka stated improving the sumi quality on Kage Shiro Utsuri as being one of his main aims.
As we can clearly see, the simple monochromatic palette of black and white creates a wide range of looks and feelings even just within the Shiro Utsuri variants of Koi.
Original Article & Photos by Mark Gardner. First published on Nishikigoi.life