The Kohaku Koi was the first variety of koi introduced to Japan in the 19th century. The koi has remained a favorite in Japan since then. This white koi comes with various red patterns. Each pattern comes with a name all of its own, distinguishing the different koi.

The patterns on the Kohaku could be flowery and delicate; known as komoyo. Or maybe they are imposing and bold; known as omoyo.

Either way, high quality Kohaku koi, especially large specimens, give off the impression of having a graceful and quiet elegance. It is rare to see a truly outstanding Kohaku because almost all of them have at least one tiny fault. So, get rid of any ideas of finding the perfect specimen as you look through the Kohaku tank of your dealer.

A Kohaku Koi rising to the surface

A Kohaku Koi rising to the surface

This variety of koi has been bred in Japan for over 100 years, during which time the fish has changed and improved so much it is almost unrecognizable. This koi is just one of only two koi types – including the Sanke – with a traceable bloodline.

The pedigree of a Kohaku Koi is only one factor to consider when deciding between them however. It could be a pointer, but it is never some kind of guarantee to how you can expect the koi to grow and develop. It is a mistake to buy a Kohaku from a known seller. There are plenty of lesser-known sellers out there with fantastic specimens waiting to be discovered. Don’t be afraid to shop around, and certainly don’t be afraid to try the smaller, lesser-known farms.

Quality and Variation

There are several qualities that separate low and high quality Kohaku Koi fish. In particular, look at the body shape, pattern, and skin quality of the fish. Skin quality is the only thing that will be obvious with young fish. Beginners also sometimes mistake the quality of skin with the color of it, which is an entirely different thing.

  • High Quality Skin

It can be difficult to describe what counts as high quality skin. Even so, high quality skin is obvious once you see it and recognize it. The relevant attributes that make up high quality skin are the luster, clarity, depth, and purity of the skin. Good, high quality, white skin has a sheen free from blemishes. It looks almost as if the fish has been painted with several layers of silk emulsion paint.

  • Body Shape

The shape of the koi’s body changes over time. Young koi tend to be slim no matter their sex, but there are some indications that the Kohaku will grow and develop properly. These include having a thick caudal peduncle (the wrist of the tail), and having broad shoulders. When it comes to size, you can’t expect that a koi will grow to be large unless the koi comes from a lineage of large koi. This is where knowing the bloodline of the fish is a positive.

  • Pattern

The pattern of the Kohaku is what gives it a unique character. There were once strict guidelines in Japan about the position of the hi on the white skin of the fish. If a fish didn’t meet these strict guidelines, then it was considered to be worthless. The attitude of today is more relaxed than back then, but the step classification is sometimes employed for the sake of convenience. There is Nidan (two step), Sandan (three step), Yondan (four step) and Godan (five step). The “step” in this case refers to a standalone patch of hi on the fish. A single, random, red scale doesn’t count as a step.

A Kohaku Koi In A Wishing Pool

A Kohaku Koi In A Wishing Pool

Hi Of The Kohaku Koi

The Hi of the Kohaku originates on the fish’s back, extended over the flanks. It is different from the “wrapping” pattern seen with Showa, which can circle around the entire abdomen. When deciding which Kohaku to buy, you should understand that it is possible that these blocks of Hi could break. A young fish with a pattern that resembles an older fish could not have the Hi it needs to make it through later life as the skin stretches. A young fish that appears to have too much Hi is likely going to grow into itself, spreading the Hi around its body.

It’s not necessarily a fault if the Hi spreads below the lateral line, but a Hi that intrudes on the fins should be avoided. The ideal Kohaku has a patch of white that separates the caudal peduncle and the hindmost Hi step, known as the ojime. It is an even bigger fault if there are no Hi on the tail region of the koi, as it causes an unbalance in appearance. Also, be sure to look out for pale or unstable secondary Hi, known as Nibani. This is a sign that the fish is of a low quality. Keep an eye out as well for pale windows, which could be an indication that the Kohaku is about to lose its Hi.

As long as the pattern it forms is interesting, it is acceptable for an unbroken Hi to run from the head to the tail of the Kohaku. The ideal pattern for this is the Inazuma (lightning strike) where the red of the Hi traces a zigzag across the back of the fish, similar to that of a lightning bolt. With that said, the Ippon Hi (unrelieved Hi across the back and flank of the fish) isn’t a sign of a good quality Kohaku. These kind of koi will likely be culled not long after being born. There are other non-starters in the Kohaku Koi broods including Shiro Muji (an all-white koi), and the opposite, all-red koi known as an Aka Muji.

The head Hi comes in a variety of different forms. The ideal head Hi was at one point considered to be a centrally-placed U-shape that extended level to the eyes without running into them. The current trend is for Kohaku that find novel ways to break rules. Now, just about any kind of head Hi works as long as it looks interesting and is able to complement the Hi on the body.

Red lips on koi are known as kuchibeni (lipstick). They can offer an interesting counterpoint to koi that have otherwise sparse or uninteresting head Hi.

When a koi has a head Hi that stands quite apart from the rest of the Hi on the body, it is called a Maruten Kohaku. A solitary head Hi like this counts as a step pattern.

The Hi is clearer on the scaleless head of the koi compared to the rest of the body. When white scales overly the Hi at the front of a pattern it is known as Sashi, which is never as clear as Kiwa; when a red scale overlays the white. Even so, Sashi should be as sharp as they can possibly be. The Hi of the mature koi must have enough strength to disguise an individual scale, but kokesuke (thin Hi) deepen as the koi of a good bloodline ages.

Display of the Hi on the Kohaku

Display of the Hi on the Kohaku

Video explaining in further detail – Source ThePondDigger

A display of lower quality Hi

The Six Main Basics of the Kohaku Koi Fish

  1. The Hi (the red markets) should be bright and spread evenly across the body. The red could either be a dark or light red.
  2. The Hi should have sharp, well-defined edges. It is a sign of low quality if the Hi simply blends from red to white. The Hi to the top of the body tend to be less defined than the Hi the rear of the body, but even the top Hi should be of a good quality.
  3. The Hi of the koi shouldn’t spread across the eyes or fins, but it is okay if it just reaches the eyes. Some of the most-valued Kohaku in Japan have had these failings however. Sometimes the other merits of the koi can outweigh these negatives, meaning that the standards can fluctuate.
  4. The Hi should also not spread beyond the lateral line of the koi. In the west, however koi with a Hi that wraps around the body are popular. When the Japanese Kohaku has a Hi like this, it also makes it a better aquarium exhibit. It allows for the bright color to be seen from all sides of the aquarium, and not just from the top; like if the koi was kept in a pond.
  5. The Hi of the head should not reach below the mouth, and it shouldn’t be on the tail. There are many koi out there with red over the nostrils and even on the lips, but these are good quality koi. The Japanese place a high value on them.
  6. There should be some Hi on the head of the koi. A Japanese koi fish without a Hi on the head is considered completely devoid of value, no matter what other redeeming qualities and characteristics it may have.

You can read more about the different exibition standards here –

A Kohaku Koi Pond In An Aiport

A Kohaku Koi Pond In An Aiport


The red and white koi made their presence known in Japan sometime between 1804 and 1829, when a young black carp was spotted with red cheeks. The fish was called Hookazuki and she had white offspring that were bred with the red fish Higoi. The result was a white koi with a red stomach. By 1829, koi with red grill plates known as Hoo Aka were produced, and several patterns emerged between 1830 and 1849. This included the red forehead (Zukinkaburi), the red head (Menkaburi), the red lips (Kuchibori), and the red-spotted Sarasa.

Kohaku breeding continued with many varieties being discovered and improved, particularly within the region of Niigata. To this day Niigata is considered to be where koi-keeping was born. Around 1888 is when a man by the name of Guskue purchased a Hachi Hi (red-headed female) and bred it with his Sakura Kana (a male with a cherry blossom/sakura pattern). The offspring of these koi are believed to be the forebears of the modern Kohaku.

Doitsu, Gin-Rin, Metallic and Other Kohaku

The Doitsu Kohaku lacks overall scaling. They are attractive pond-fish, but they will always lose out at a competition to fully-scaled fish; unless the competition has a class for the Dotisu koi. This won’t be a problem if you don’t plan to show your koi, however.

The Gin-Rin Kohaku comes with an abundance of reflective scales. This puts them in the same judging class as the Go Sanke (Sanke and Showa); known as the Kin-Gin-Rin Class.

The Metallic Kohaku – also known as the Sakura Ogou – is judged in Hikarimoyo. These “Kanoko Hohaku” as they are called have dappled Hi that is made of individual red scales that are clearly defined. The fish will often lose their Hi as they grow up, but they are judged in Kawarimono while the Hi is still stable.