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Koi Shows

Updated: Fri, 9 Mar 2018

Ever wanted to know how Koi are judged at shows. Here's the skinny. There are hundreds of Koi shows held each year around the world. In the United States there are 32 Associated Koi Clubs of America (AKCA) recognized shows in the US and that number will continue to grow.
Koi Shows

There are hundreds of Koi shows held each year around the world. In the United States there are 32 Associated Koi Clubs of America (AKCA) recognized shows in the US and that number will continue to grow. I know of several young Koi clubs that will be adding shows to there activities as they grow. At last count there are 104 AKCA clubs in the US. You can find a list of them at the AKCA web site at http://www.akca.org/.

At the bottom of this page there is a link to information and pictures from the 7th Annual All Florida Koi and Pond Show (AFKAPS). The pictures were taken by Henry Culpepper and I thank him for giving me permission to use his photos on this CD. Since I don't have the time or money to personally visit all these shows I'll have to depend on individuals like Henry to provide me with photos.

Koi shows are one of the best ways for beginners in the hobby to learn what high quality Koi are supposed to look like. It also gives advanced hobbyist a chance to demonstrate their skills at keeping and growing Koi to their maximum potential by maintaining high water quality and how they manage their diet. They are able to meet with other hobbyist and discuss their techniques and theories.

If you are new to the hobby and are not Koi Kichi (Koi crazy) "yet" a Koi show is a good starting point. There are standard rules for Koi shows but there is enough flexibility to allow for small shows that don't have enough entrants to make up all the different classes. Some shows have special classes of their own.


When Koi are judged at a show it is to determine which one is the best in that class on that day. It doesn’t matter where it was bred, who bred it, how much it sold for or who owns it. At least that’s the way it is supposed to be. It all boils down to the judges and their personal character. As with anything involving humans, there has to be some politics going on in some cases but Koi shows are a great way to see some beautiful Koi that many of us will never own the likes of.

Some of the things to look for in a show quality Koi; the skin should have a lustier or sheen to it, the body should be well formed and have an overall balance or “conformation”, the color should be deep with sharp edges and the pattern should be well balanced.

Each show will have a “benching” committee that inspects the Koi before the show. They check each Koi to see if it is fit for showing. Some of the things that will disqualify a Koi for participating in a show are missing fins, deformed mouth, bent spine, etc. They can’t show any signs of parasites or disease. They should swim and act normal.


Kohaku are white Koi with red markings. The white should be snow white and the red should be thick whether it is the hard red from purple or orange color that is referred to as persimmon. It is said that the persimmon red/orange is more stable. I’ve read many times in many places “Koi begin and end with Kohaku”. The Kohaku is the most popular class with the high end hobbyist. Kohaku were the first variety to become stabilized and there has been more effort put into breeding and improving them than any other. The red should not go below the lateral line of the Kohaku.


The Sanke were stabilized in the firs quarter of the 20th century. Sanke are a cross with Kohaku and Bekko which gives you a white Koi with a red Kohaku pattern and black spots on the body. As a rule their should not be any black on the head but some of the newer Sanke that have been produced in the past few years have larger black spots and I’ve seen several with black spots that extended onto the head and were very beautiful Koi. It is not a requirement for Sanke to have black stripes in their fins but it is okay if it isn’t over done.


The original Showa stabilized in the Showa Emperor era (1927-1989) were basically black Koi with heavy red/orange markings with very little white. The modern or “Kindai” Showa has a better balance of black, red and white but most of the ones I’ve seen aren’t as stable as the old style Showa. The red is also more red than orange in the Kindai Showa.


In the Utsuri class there are three varieties. The Shiro Utsuri (black with white markings), the Ki Utsuri (black with yellow markings) and the Hi Utsuri (black with red markings). The Shiro Utsuri is by far the most popular and most stable of the three.


There are three varieties of Bekko. Shiro Bekko (white with black spots), Ki Bekko (yellow with black spots) and Aka (red/orange with black spots). It is very rare to find a nice Shiro Bekko. One of the requirements for a high quality Shiro Bekko is a clean white head. Since most of the Shiro Bekko sold now are basically Sanke that lost or didn’t develop the red color most of the Shiro Bekko will have a tan colored head. If you can find a good one, they are beautiful fish.


Named after Japan's national bird the Tancho Crane. Tancho means red cap. Kohaku, Sanke and Showa that have only a single red spot which is on the head. We call these Koi Tancho, Tancho Sanke and Tancho Showa respectively and they are shown in Tancho class. The Tancho spot must be between the eyes and preferable perfectly round. It must not go back onto the shoulder of the Koi or down to the nose of the Koi. Red may not appear anywhere else on the Koi to be shown in Tancho class. A sumi pattern may cross the Tancho mark on a Tancho Showa. No other variety with a spot on the head may be shown in Tancho class. This includes Goshiki with red spot on the head, Bekko with black spot on the head and Ogon with orange spot on the head to name a few.

It is also considered to be lucky. The single red spot on a white ground reminiscent of the Japanese flag, gives rise to the alternative name of Hinormaru and is consequently held in high esteem. Tancho generally consist of the big three varieties, namely Tancho Kohaku, Tancho Sanke and Tancho Showa, with the single red head marking being common to each. Although not bred purposely, Tancho occur naturally in the course of production of their respective varieties, nonetheless good specimens are highly prized.Tancho Kohaku, the main variety, is basically a simple Koi with a single red head marking and a white body. The head marking should be as large as possible with a circular shape being the ideal.

(in all classes of koi)

Common carp are the most widely farmed food fish in the world. The Germans (Doitsu) selectively bred carp to have few or no scales to aid in the processing. During the Meija Erra (1868-1912) the Japanese bred some of their colored koi to two varieties of German carp. One is the leather carp without any scales and the other is a mirror carp that has large mirror scales along each side of the dorsal fin and also along the lateral line on each side of the koi. These are call Doitsu (German) koi. You can find Doitsu koi in most of the varieties of Japanese Nishikigoi (brocaded carp).


The Asagi are one of the first koi varieties. Ideally they should have a blue/gray base color with the edges of the scales outlined in white to form a net pattern. There should be orange or red on the belly extending up to the lateral line as well as the cheeks of the koi. The pectoral fins should also be red.

The Shusui are Asagi that have been crossed with a Doitsu mirror scale variety. The should have the red belly and cheeks but the skin above the lateral line should be a sky blue and the mirror scales along the dorsal fin should be even rows and a dark navy blue. Shusui with red that comes all the way up to the dorsal fin are called Hi Shusui.


There are three varieties of Koromo. Koromo means robed. Koromo have a white body with a Kohaku pattern but they will also have blue grape like clusters over the red (Budo Goromo), black edging over red scales (Sumi Goromo) or blue edging over the red scales (Ai Goromo).


Kin means gold and gin means silver. Koi in this class will have shiny silver or gold scales and in order to be qualified for this class they must have at least two full rows of the kin rin or gin rin. There are Kin Gin Rin for most of the scaled varieties and even some of the Doitsu mirror scaled koi.

(also called Hikarimono)

Hikari means metallic and muji means self-colored or literally 'nothing else'. They are single colored koi with a metallic sheen to the skin. You can tell best if a koi is metallic by looking at the head. Since koi don’t have scales on their head it’s easy to see if the skin is metallic. One of the koi in this class is the Gin Matsuba and the black pine cone markings in the center of the white scales make it a two colored koi but they are in the Hikari Muji class anyway.

(also Hikari-Utsurimono)

Hikari Utsuri are metallic versions of the Showa and Utsuri. It’s really hard to find really nice specimens of these varieties. One of the most important things to look for is a clean head. Unfortunately the ones I’ve seen don’t look very nice when they are young. It takes several years for one to develop to where it looks nice and it needs to be kept in excellent water to achieve its potential. That is true of any koi, of course. If you buy a tosai Hikari Utsuri be patient for a few years.

(also Hikarimoyo Mono)

This class includes all the metallic koi with two or more colors except the metallic Utsuri and Showa.

(Any other non-metallic varieties fall in this class. One exception is the Kikokuryu)

Kawarimono or Kawarigoi as they are sometimes called is a catchall class for all of the other koi that do not fit into one of the other classes. The list is huge but here are some of the favorites. Karasugoi or crow carp family that are black with various white markings on the body and fins. Depending on how much white you have Hajiro (black with white only on the tail and pectoral fin tips), Hageshiro (black with white on tail and pectoral fin tips and on the head), Yotsushiro (Hageshiro with all white head), Kumonryu (Doitsu koi with killer whale pattern) and Matsukawabake (koi that changes from black to gray depending on water temperature forming a net black pattern). There is a new variety that has been put into Kawarimono and is metallic. The Kikokuryu, is a metallic Kumonryu and is a result of crossing a Kumonryu with a Kikusui. It may someday be moved to the Hikari Moyo class since Kawarimono is for non-metallic koi that don't fit into any of the other classes. Goshiki, meaning 5 colors, are white with a red Kohaku pattern and two shades of blue and black netting not only on the red but also on the white. Cool water makes the colors darken. It is important for Goshiki to have a clean red and white head with no sumi markings. Chagoi are brown/green tea colored carp. These koi grow fast and very large and become the favorite in the pond by their friendliness. Also in solid colors are the Kigoi (yellow koi), Soragoi (gray blue koi), Midorigoi (green koi), Benigoi (red koi), Aka Hijiro ( red koi with white fin tips) and Shiro Muji (white koi). My favorite is a cross between Chagoi and Kohaku or Asagi called Ochiba Shigure. This koi reminds people of autumn leaves on water because the hi shows up as a bright orange/gold pattern on a blue/gray body with black netting over the whole body. The Doitsu version of Ochiba Shigure has been called “antique” due to the colors. The Kanoko group: Kanoko means “fawn” describing a dappled Kohaku red pattern that looks like cherry blossoms. This group includes Kanoko Kohaku, Kanoko Sanke and Kanoko Showa. Kage (shadow) group. They include Kage Shiro Utsuri, Kage Hi Utsuri, and Kage Showa. Non-metallic Matsuba are also in this class. Aka (red) Matsuba, Ki Matsuba and Shiro Matsuba. There are also Doitsu versions of all of the above.