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Taisho Sanke Koi

Taisho Sanke Koi

The First Tricoloured Koi Variety

Taisho Sanke, commonly called Sanke, are basically a Kohaku with added black markings or sumi. In fact, they are closely related to Kohaku. Koi with black markings began to appear in the spawn of Kohaku in the early 1900’s. This inspired Eizburo Hoshino to cross one of these parent Kohaku with a Shiro Bekko (a white koi with black markings). The resulting fry showed great promise, as they had the typical Sanke colours in fairly equal proportions, and a new variety was created. However, it was Torakichi Kawikame who ‘fixed’ the strain (making it stable for breeding) and the resulting bloodline became known as the Torazo bloodline. All current sanke bloodlines have arisen from the Torazo or Sanba (now extinct) bloodlines. 

taisho sanke Japanese koi

Sanke Characteristics

Sanke were the first tricolour (white, red and black) koi variety to be developed. It is the second in the group of koi known as the ‘Big Three’ (Kohaku, Sanke & Showa) also known as Gosanke.  They are white koi with large patterns of hi (red) and smaller sumi (black marking) evenly distributed on the body.

As with Kohaku, the white should be snow-white and lustrous, and the red markings (hi) should be deep in colour with the edges of the pattern well defined. The sumi should be deep black, though it usually appears as light blue or grey in young koi, before it fully develops.  The sumi should also be distributed evenly throughout the body to provide a pleasing pattern. While sumi may develop on the hi (red) or on the white skin, Sanke with sumi on the white are highly sought after.  

Sanke usually only have the sumi on the upper half of the body, they typically shouldn’t have any below the lateral line. This is one major feature that distinguishes Sanke from Showa, whose sumi are usually much larger and extend right down to the belly. Sanke often have some black stripes on the pectoral fins, but should not have motoguro – a block of black at the base of the pectoral fin.

Another characteristic that differentiates Sanke from Showa, is that Sanke do not usually have any sumi on the head. While classic Sanke will have only red over white on the head, quality Showa will always have a significant amount of black on the head.  

Common Sanke Patterns

Below you will see some high quality Sanke koi. These are koi that are produced by some of the best breeders in Japan. 


This beautiful Sanke has well defined hi and evenly placed sumi throughout the body. Note the black stripe in the left dorsal fin.

sanke Japanese koi

Doitsu Sanke

This stunning Doitsu Sanke has a great pattern and is totaly scaleless. Note the head does not have any black markings.

Doitsu Sanke Japanese Koi

Aka Sanke

This non-traditional Aka Sanke has a single, continuous red pattern without any breaks in it. This style of Sanke are growing in popularity

Below you will see a video of some beautiful nisai (2 year old) sanke.

Sanke Terminology

Below you will find the descriptions, terminology and phrases commonly used to describe Sanke koi.

Aka – (AH kah) Red

Aka Sanke (AH kah SAHN keh) A sanke with large areas of hi (red) without breaks in the pattern 

Aka hana – (AH kah HAH nah) Red nose

Bozu – (boh ZOO) No hi on the head, bald head

Ginrin or Gin-Rin – (geen reen) Refers to sparkling scales 

Hachi  – (HAH chee) Head

Hara – (hah RAH) Abdominal area

Hi – (HEE) A term for red

Ippon hi – (EE pohn HEE) A continuous red pattern from head to tail

Kasane sumi – (KAH sah neh SOO mee) A black marking (sumi) on a red pattern

Kuchibeni – (KOO chee BEN eee) Red lips

Menkaburi – (MEHN kah BOO ree) Hi (red) covering the entire face or head 

Motoaka – (MOH toh AH kah) Red markings at the base of the pectoral fins

Motoguro – (MOH toh GOO roh) Black markings at the base of the pectoral fins

Nezu – (NEH zoo) Light Grey

Odome – (oh DOH meh) Last marking before the tail

Ojime – (oh GEE meh) Gap between the last pattern marking and the tail

Sanke – (SAHN keh) A white koi with hi (red) and sumi (black) patterns 

Shiro – (SHEE roh) White

Sumi – (SOO mee) Black

Tancho sanke – (TAHN choh) A sanke with a single hi (red) spot on the head and typical markings on the body

Tsubo sumi – (TSOO boh SOO mee) Black pattern (sumi) over white skin

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