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  • Writer's pictureChris Edwards

Questioning the Showa Theory

I’ve had this blog ready to post for months now, but I’ve been worried about doing so. I’ve been working in the Japanese Koi trade for over 20 years and should by now know all the answers, especially these apparently basic ones, but I don’t and probably never will. I’m slightly comforted that the breeders I’ve discussed this topic with have also let out a wondering sigh and the universal chin rub for “Oooh, that’s got me stumped”. I’ve discussed this with a few respected dealers and koi trade members who have all encouraged me to post it. That’s either to get the answers themselves, or to stitch me up. I’m not sure which.

If you read any koi book you will learn the following about the Go Sanke group of koi; A Kohaku is a white koi with red markings. A Sanke is a white koi with red and black markings and a Showa is a black koi with red and white markings.

The latter is often hard to get your head around, but if you’ve ever been involved in the breeding and selections of Showa in their infancy then you’ll understand how this theory works.

Showa are black fish. From a Showa spawning, the breeder will only want to keep the black fish. The first round of selections involves selecting out the black koi from the white koi and separating them. Only the black ones will go on to be Showa as we know them. At this point there is no pattern, this is the first round of selections and all the koi are either black, or white (ish).

So far, this is clear. However, after speaking to many Showa breeders in the Niigata region, the simple fact is that 60-80% of Showa offspring are born white koi. So how does that make a Showa a black koi if the majority of them are white?

I don’t know the answer to that, other than maybe the white ones aren’t Showa. But to get so many koi that aren’t the same variety as the parents, can only be described as inefficient at best.

However, one burning question that’s been eating away at me for years, one which many of the breeders in Japan can’t even answer, is this; “If a Showa is a black koi, which for me is questionable anyway; why are we always waiting for the black (or sumi) to develop?”

So many conversations about Showa revolve around when the sumi will develop, or when the black comes. So much potential about

Showa is focused on how the black is going to develop. Dealers in Japan will often talk about when the sumi develops this will be a great fish. Hobbyists in dealer’s stores will have a similar conversation “This is going to be great when and if the black develops”

But if it’s a black fish, surely the black is already there?

So what’s happening? Is the white fading to reveal the black underneath? Is the white breaking to reveal the black underneath? Is the black “floating” up to sit on top of the white?

Of these options (there may be more), the white certainly isn’t breaking apart. The black fades in, not just appears jet black and then spreads, we’ve all witnessed that. So the white cracking/breaking to reveal the underlying sumi is pretty much out of the question.

Or?.....Is a Showa actually a black koi with a white, red and black pattern? Are there 2 kinds of black on a Showa? One base layer of black of which the whole of the fish is covered and another type of black which develops over time to make a pattern?

I honestly have no idea, it’s all just a theory. But one or two breeders who I’ve discussed this with over dinner have offered and this a potential theory about what’s happening, but can’t (and most certainly won’t) confirm it as fact.

One breeder I discussed this in depth with is Sekiguchi Masayuki, boss of Sekiguchi Koi Farm and breed some of the best Showa you’ll see. He is of the opinion that a Showa being a black koi is now an outdated, old fashioned thought process. He doesn’t believe that theory to be true. However, he couldn’t offer anything else to say about what his theory actually might be, but he did give some weight to my own theory above that a Showa is indeed a black koi, but with red, white and black markings instead of just red and white. So after all that waffle, the question I would like the answer to is; If a Showa is a black fish, why is the black that last colour to come through? Why are we always waiting for the black to develop?

Somebody must know……..I don’t Chris Edwards, Azukari Koi

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