Pet Education Fish
Pet Education Fish Pet Education Fish Pet Education Fish
Koi Varieties and Judging Criteria
Veterinary & Aquatic Services Department, Drs. Foster & Smith
Pond Fish
Print Article | Email Article
Bookmark and Share
Click here for a pdf version of this article. 

Koi, or Nishikigoi, are the national fish of Japan. The word "Nishiki" describes a colorful brocade in Japanese and "koi" means carp. Therefore, Nishikigoi can be roughly translated to "colorful brocaded carp."


Koi are thought to have originated in the Middle Eastern region, now known as Iran, from a species of fish called Magoi, the common carp. Over a thousand years ago, Magoi were widely traded as a staple food source, exported to Japan, China, and Western Europe.

Koi were first bred in Japan in the 1820s, initially in the town of Ojiya, of the Niigata prefecture. While they were still being bred for food, these brown fish occasionally produced red and blue mutations. Through selective breeding, the red and white variety - recognizable as the modern ornamental Koi - was eventually perfected in 1870.


More than 100 color and pattern varieties have been bred from this single species of common carp. An unusual variety was developed in Germany. This fish has only two rows of scales on either side of the dorsal fin. A fish of this type is said to have "German scalation."

There are almost an infinite variety of colors and patterns, but koi can generally be divided into the following varieties:

Variety Description Example
Kohaku White fish with red markings in many types of patterns Kohaku
Taisho-sanke White fish with red markings, and fewer black markings. The head must have a large red mark, but no black. Taisho-sanke
Showa-sanshoku Black fish with white and red markings Showa-sanshoku
Bekko Solid colored fish (e.g., white or red) with small black markings Bekko
Utsurimono Reverse of the Bekko. Black fish with small markings of another color Utsurimono
Asagi Blue scales with white edges, appearing as a net. Red markings on the belly, pectoral fins, and gill covers. Asagi
Shusui Markings like the Asagi, but with German scalation. The head should be light blue. Red should appear on the cheeks, and fins. Bands of red should extend on the sides of the fish from snout to tail. Shusui
Koromo Blue scales; many types and patterns. The Aigoromo, the most popular Koromo, has blue colored scales on its red markings, but the red on the head must not have blue scales. Koromo
Ogon Solid metallic; usually platinum, white, or gold Ogon
Hikari-moyomono Metallic with more than one color Hikari-moyomono
Hikari-utsurimono Metallic and lustrous with three colors Hikari-utsurimono
Kinginrin Shiny or silvery scalation Kinginrin
Tancho Red patch on the head; preferably in a perfect circle Tancho
Kawarimono Those koi not included in any other category Kawarimono

Characteristics for judging koi

Koi are judged on the criteria of physical size and shape, colors, patterns, and overall behavior/presence, as described below. The actual percentage of points given to each characteristic may vary between judges and shows. The approximate number of points for each characterisitic for Western and Oriental judging are included in parantheses.

Style or Figure (40, 30): Style, or figure, refers to the physical characteristics, including shape and size. The symmetry of the head, shoulders, mid-section, tail, and pectoral fins are taken into account, as well as the integrity of the eyes and mouth. An ideal koi has an absolutely straight line from the snout to the tail. The proper proportion should be maintained between the body, head, and the fins. The distance between the dorsal fin and the tail should be 1/3 the distance between the head and the first ray of the dorsal fin. The head should be smooth, with no pits or indentations. The abdomen should be round, such that a cross-section of the fish would be almost circular. In addition, the depth (height - not including the fins) to length ratio, is very important. It should be 1:2.5 to 1:3. The side profile of the fish is also taken into account. Overall size is also important, the larger the better.

Colors (20, 20): Breeders and judges look for intensity and purity of color - whether the Koi are all white, all black, or richly patterned. Borders between colors should be well-marked and distinct. Some colors will have a metallic sheen. The skin should be free from any blemish and be lustrous.

Patterns (20, 20): Koi patterns are rich and varied, and the Japanese have divided them into 14 major groups based on color, pattern, and scale type (as noted above). Judges and breeders look for fish with sharp, distinct pattern edges. Skin and scales are also rated - skin should have no blemishes and scales should be uniform. The overall aesthetic appeal of the fish is also taken into consideration.

Quality and Elegance (20, 30): The overall presence of the fish, including swimming ability and how it relates to other fish (too passive or aggresive are marked lower) are judged. Side-by-side comparisons are used to recognize personality and behavior differences in the Koi. The fish are also judged by their grace in movement. Individual Koi that appear healthier and more vital than others are rated higher.

Click here for a pdf version of this article.   
Print Article | Email Article
TetraMin Tropical Flakes
TetraMin Tropical Flakes
As low as $4.99
Drs. Foster & Smith Tropical Flakes Fish Food
Drs. Foster & Smith Tropical Flakes Fish Food
As low as $5.99
Ocean Nutrition Formula One Flake & Pellet Food
Ocean Nutrition Formula One Flake & Pellet Food
As low as $4.99
TetraMin Tropical Crisps
TetraMin Tropical Crisps
As low as $5.99

Facebook YouTube Blog Connect with us

Subscribe to email newsletters:
featuring helpful articles, tips and online only product specials from Drs. Foster & Smith. Learn more here !

About Us Article Reprints Awards & Memberships Request a FREE Catalog Tell a Friend
Meet Our Staff Terms & Use Site Map Free Newsletters Links to Us
Visit our other websites: Doctors Foster and Smith Pet Supplies - Quality Aquatic Life Direct to Your Door
For product information, call 1-800-826-7206

Copyright © 1997-2013, Foster and Smith, Inc. - 2253 Air Park Road, P.O. Box 100, Rhinelander, Wisconsin, 54501. All rights reserved.