Learning to love the kohaku

All my koi keeping friends love the kohaku. I must be a slow starter since I really avoided buying or liking kohakus until the last year or so. Truthfully, it’s very difficult to learn all the nuances of kohaku appreciation. There’s so much to learn about this variety and it’s difficult to find all the information in one place. So the simple red and white fish is really a challenge for me. I feel I’m getting marginally better at appreciating kohaku koi but there’s probably a lifetime amount of knowledge still out there. So here was a perfect jumpstart to some kohaku appreciation. Last night, ZNA Carolina/Jason Guevara hosted a webinar on the history of the kohaku. Jason Guevara is a ZNA-AKCA-AKJA certified judge and just a fountain of knowledge. Those certifications took years and lots of koi watching and judging to achieve. I’m so glad to have met him this past year when he came out to judge the Upper Midwest Koi Show. His content packed presentation was fascinating and raised a lot more questions in my mind. Just a little sidebar about ZNA Carolina – they do this on the first Tuesday of every month and anyone can join ZNA Carolina – check out their Facebook site. Anyways, I took a lot of notes and the first thing you do is listen to the content and reevaluate what’s in your collection. (I’ve put my webinar notes at the bottom of the post. I use my blog to store information that I might lose if I leave it on a piece of paper.) Can my collection improve? absolutely….Will any of these fish become fertilizer? probably not, I will probably give away the non keepers. I also keep some koi because I just like them. Keeping koi is a fun hobby for my pond builder and I. My goal is to be able to look out at the ponds he creates for me and know that I have some good quality koi swimming around. I’m looking for a pleasing set of koi that are colorful and will appeal to the casual observer as well as someone who is a little koi kichi. I’m not a big fan of showing koi except that I feel I’m doing my small part for the hobby in the United States. I think the only way we develop more interest in koi is to have these shows, bring in the best quality koi you can afford and then encourage current and future koi keepers to dream big. I realize it’s a difficult hobby but many worthwhile things in life are not always easy. So here is kohaku – Chuck Norris. Chuck was purchased through Koi Acres when I asked for a higher quality kohaku tosai to watch development. Chuck arrived in the spring of 2016 and is now about 20-21″ long. More of the orangey-red color (persimmon) and in general I have been pleased with the growth. The little fly in the ointment is the shimi on the side. One black spot that I could ignore, try some lemon juice or try to remove. I’m leaning towards doing nothing because it’s a very healthy koi, not too aggressive, better than most at trying new food and has a lot of other good points.
mnkoilady, kohaku, koi, minnesota
2017-11 Chuck Norris, kohaku
the shimi 😖
Kohaku Akachan was purchased through Koi Acres at our annual koi show. She was a buy to put in the vendor tank since I wanted to support our new venture and she won Best in Size 2. A few months later I was thinking about abandoning her because her red coloring was fading. However, I held her over the winter and over the spring months her coloring came back and she looked pretty good. I took her this past summer to the koi show and she received Best in Size 3. Last night we talked a lot about odome – the tail stop area of the koi. Ideally, you want some white before the tail fin starts because it adds balance and elegance to the koi. In Akachan’s case I’m going to just let it ride for another year or two. The other koi in this photo is Kohaku Lola, Beppu farm. Lola actually has red lips under her Rudolph style red nose. When I get tired of kuchibeni koi, then maybe she’ll go away. I’d also like to see how her big pattern develops. I’m currently not a fan of kohakus that have one large red pattern but many aficianados will say that it’s a very powerful look. I’m not there yet but while it should be obvious, little tosai koi with a big pattern will have more red on them as their bodies grow and expand. So who knows how the shape will look as the koi grows? mnkoilady, kohaku, koi, minnesota Here’s Kohaku Maki, Matsue farm and Kohaku Lavinia. Lavinia is the larger koi on the left, around 19 inches and I purchased her in November 2016 because she was a lipstick/kuchibeni koi. She’s not bad looking but a close examination of her scales on her right side show some flaws. She’s a keeper because of her kuchibeni status. Maki is a pretty kohaku but she has some red on the bottom of the tail fin. My notes from last night reflect it’s undesirable to have red on the tail. While you can’t see it from above, you can see it from the side. I don’t have a good photo of the fin so I might do some filming this weekend. I also think she might have a little red on her left pectoral fin. I probably need to bowl her to take more detailed photos. mnkoilady, kohaku, koi, minnesota Kohaku Mayhem is a male koi and he generally causes a lot of trouble in my pond. Tends to be aggressive, chases after the girls and the smaller koi, gets the kaede and karashigoi males going as well. Mayhem is about 25 inches long. He has some flaws including a little too much red on his right eye. mnkoilady, kohaku, koi, minnesota Kohaku Mio, Taniguchi is about 26 inches long. She has very white skin and I like the cherry blossom type of pattern (gotenzakura). mnkoilady, kohaku, koi, minnesota The other three kohaku koi in my collection are in Japan or on their way home via GenkiKoi/Kevin Pham. To watch some development, I have two different kohaku tosai, one from Sakai and one from Watanabe. I’ll have Kevin raise them through April and have them shipped back to Minnesota then.
mnkoilady, kohaku, koi, minnesota
Sakai tosai
mnkoilady, kohaku, koi, minnesota
Watanabe tosai
The third kohaku not at home is a Taniguchi kohaku, 20″ long at 16 months with an interesting pattern. So we’re told that pattern is only a small part of appreciation but I still enjoy a koi that looks cool. She’ very cool looking to me and will be taken care of in Japan for at least a year with the breeder. mnkoilady, kohaku, koi, minnesota I feel the kohakus will be the most likely to move out of my collection as new ones come in – every year I’m armed with a little more information and hope to upgrade the quality swimming around in Minnesota ☺️ —————- Notes from ZNA Carolina Videoconference 11.5.2017 with Jason Guevara 1. The kohaku is developed through the Magoi and Asagi. That’s a lot of breeding to tease out the darker colors and develop stable red patterns. He didn’t show this chart but you can see how the different varieties developed from the ugly brown common carp. 2. Thank goodness for Japanese emperors who were interested in colorful koi. Rich and powerful tastemakers… 3. Koi inherit the full set of genes from both the mother and father parent koi…which is why you can see two different characteristics on the same koi. 4. Japanese koi lingo
  • menkaburi  – red on the whole face, not desirable
  • odome – area right before the tail fin, white is desirable, should balance the koi, adds to elegance while swimming
  • kutsubera – U shape red on the head, desirable (like a shoehorn, don’t want it too far on the face )
  • kirekomi – cut ins
  • moto aka – red on the fins, not really desirable… a little red in the armpit is fin, never want to see color on the leading ray of the pectoral fin
  • tancho – koi with the round spot on the head, does not have to be round but should be symmetrical, centered, 1/3 below the eye to eye line and 2/3 above
  • kanoko kohaku – must have been taking my sourdough bread out of the oven during this discussion 🤣…something about three scales together
  • we also talked a lot about the red scales, including kiwa (back end), sashi (print end), kamisori (cut red scales), maruzome (round red scales)
5. Other handy tips
  • pick tosai with large red since it will shrink as it grows
  • no red on the tail
  • no red on the eye, some red like eyeliner is okay but certainly not below the eye
  • sashi should be only one scale
  • shimi less than the size of a scale is a shimi – if it’s a whole scale, it’s not a kohaku (sanke)
6. This is really interesting for koi geeks. There are four major bloodlines that go into the modern day kohaku. You can’t find any pure versions because breeders have crossbred the heck out of all of these koi. Do you really need to know this – no…but if you are buying koi and someone describes some of these predominant traits, you will have a better idea of the koi. So the four primary bloodlines are Manzo, Sensuke, Tomoin and Yagozen. Each bloodline holds some particular characteristics. Jason always listed some current breeders where you might find their koi show some of the qualities of a particular bloodline
  • Manzo
    • deep blood red coloring
    • the pronounced  “hump”
    • weak body
    • I think these are right but my note taking here was a bit scattered… Sakuma, Dainichi/Matsunoke, Hasagawa
  • Sensuke
    • best body
    • persimmon coloring
    • kamisori
    • Matsue, Okawa, Murata
  • Tomoin
    • nice beni
    • tosai has center red in the scale
    • original high quality
    • soft white
    • smallish
    • shimi prone
    • Sakai, Torazo, Hoshikin
  • Yagozen
    • bright white
    • persimmon
    • used in many breedings
    • Suda
So I still have a lot of questions and some day I may find some answers. I heard him mention something that I hear a lot – there are 20 kinds of beni. I have been googling this phrase and nada. I’m on a mission to find out just what the twenty kinds of beni are…. —————– BTW – photo credit for the feature image is Kevin Pham, GenkiKoi, in 2013 at Sakai Fish Farm. Speaking of Kevin Pham he just sent to me this morning a photo of a poster showing the All Japan Koi Show champions through 2016. 32 of the 52 champions are kohaku koi.
photo courtesy of Kevin Pham, GenkiKoi



  1. Christel Sorg says:

    Thanks for the notes Lori – I took notes too, but yours are so much more complete.Christel

  2. I love kohaku and the rest of koi variety

  3. koibids says:

    I love Kohaku fish, It looks incredible.

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