Koi Fish Colors

You have to really admire those Japanese koi breeders.  They started out with a plain carp, found some with small color variations and ended up with the most colorful and popular fish in the world. 

It is still a carp, but back in the early days, they started breeding koi fish to produce the different and unique color patterns we see today.  These spectacular colors and individual patterns are a large part of the reason that koi fish are prized ornamental fish and  treasured by their owners.

Over the years, the colors have become very specific.  A koi must be bright with brilliant reds and deep blacks.  A white koi should be pure white and never have any specks of dirty grey.  

Color is always used as an indicator of good health in koi.  If they are in poor health or are exposed to poor water conditions,  the bright colors of the fish will turn dull or it will look greyish.  A fish that whose colors are dull or indistinct or has scales or spots that are graying might be sick or live in water that is unhealthy.

When you buy a koi fish, understanding how its color is supposed to look can help you pick out a healthy fish.  After you get it home, watching the color will help you determine if you are giving your koi the best care possible.

These wonderful fish come in many colors.  The most common colors are red, white, black, yellow, blue and cream.

Since the Japanese started breeding koi they have used certain terms to describe their colors and traits. 

Over the years, koi fish breeders have identified and named a very large number of specific categories.  And, all of them have Japanese names.

The most popular category is the Gosanke category which includes several varieties of koi, but they are usually white with red markings. The white color on this breed of koi should be pure white and the red should have well defined edges that cover between 50 and 70 percent of the body.

Another popular variety, also known as Taisho Sanke or just Sanke, is white with red and black markings. Like most white colors on koi, the white  should be pure white while the red and black colors are deep in hue with distinct edges.

Another worldwide favorite is the Showa Sanshoki, or just Showa variety.  This one is also white, but has black and red color patterns. The difference between the two is that the Showa koi is predominantly black with red and white markings.

Other koi varieties all have their own distinctive colors. For instance the Ogon koi breeds come in a variety of colors but are all one color. They should be an even hue all over their body with no patterns or markings.

It is not easy to learn or remember the names of each variety.  So, I included the table below from wikipedia to list some of the most popular varieties and colors.  I even included the Japanese name for the fish.

Name What the fish looks like (from wikipedia)
Kōhaku; 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  in the late 19th century.
Taishō Sanshoku (or Taisho Sanke) Very similar to the Kohaku, except for the addition of small black markings called sumi. This variety was first exhibited in 1914. In America, the name is often abbreviated to just “Sanke”.
Shōwa Sanshoku (or Showa Sanke) A black koi with red and white markings. The first Showa Sanke was exhibited in 1927. In America, the name is often abbreviated to just Showa.
Tanchō Any koi with a solitary red patch on its head.
Chagoi lit ‘Tea-colored’ koi ranging in color from pale olive-drab green or brown to copper or bronze and more recently darker, subdued orange shades. Famous for its docile, friendly personality and large size, it is considered s sign of good luck among koi keepers.
Asagi A koi that is light blue above and usually red, but also occasionally pale yellow, or cream generally below the lateral line and on the cheeks. The Japanese name means “pale greenish blue.”
Utsurimono A black koi with a white, red, or yellow markings. The oldest attested form is the yellow form, called “Black and white markings”
Bekko A white-, red-, or yellow-skinned koi with black marking . The Japanese name means “tortoise shell.”
Goshiki A dark koi with red pattern. Appears similar to an Asagi with little or no red below the lateral line.
Shūsui The Japanese name means “Autumn Water.” The fish has no scales, except for a single line of large mirror scales dorsally, extending from head to tail. The most common type of Shusui has a pale, sky-blue/gray color above the lateral line and red or orange (and very, very rarely bright yellow) below the lateral line and on the cheeks.
Kinginrin A koi with metallic (glittering metal-flake appearing) scales. The name translates into English as “gold and silver scales.”
Kawarimono A “catch-all” term for koi that cannot be put into one of the other categories. This is a competition category and many new varieties of koi compete against each other within this one category.
Ōgon A metallic koi of one color only. The most commonly encountered colors are gold, platinum, and orange. Cream specimens exist but are very rare.
Kumonryū Kumonryu is a black scaled fish with curling white markings. The patterns are thought to be reminiscent of Japanese ink paintings of dragons. They famously change color with the seasons.
Ochiba A light blue/gray koi with copper, bronze, or yellow pattern, reminiscent of autumn leaves on water. The Japanese name means “fallen leaves.”
Koromo A white fish with a pattern of blue or black edged scales only over the red pattern. This variety first arose in the 1950s as a cross between a Kohaku and an Asagi.
Hikari-moyomono A koi with colored markings over a metallic base, or a koi in two metallic colours.
Ghost koi A hybrid of Ogon and wild carp with metallic scales.
Butterfly koi A hybrid of Japanese koi and Asian carp with long flowing fins. Various coloration depending on the koi stock used to hybrid.
Doitsu-goi Originated by cross breeding numerous different established varieties with “scale-less” German carp.

Good food is necessary to keep koi colors bright and vibrant.  By feeding the fish a diet rich in color enhancing food you will provide them with good food and make them look great. For example, shrimp, marigold, plankton and blue-green algae are some types of food that have been added to commercially prepared foods to enhance the color in koi fish. 

When you feed your koi frozen or freeze-dried brine shrimp and daphnia, you are ultimately feeding them color-enhancing ingredients. Each of these types of foods have high concentrations of the nutrients needed to enhance the major pigments in the koi’s skin.

Knowing what to feed your fish is a huge part of keeping them healthy and keeping those colors bright. Getting the best information available is as easy as clicking on this link and getting a copy of The Beginner’s Guide to Raising Healthy Koi“.

It is 90 pages full of the latest information on koi.  CLICK HERE to get your own copy of this unique book and learn what your koi colors mean.