Koi - Shiro UtsuriThe 4th of the main varieties of Nishikigoi, the Utsurimono, is basically a two coloured Koi – the base colour of which is black, the second colour being either white Shiro Utsuri; red - Hi Utsuri; or Yellow - Ki Utsuri. Whilst today the name Utsuri is usually taken to mean Shiro Utsuri (the black and white version) the original Utsuri was the Yellow or Ki variety and was one of the earliest varieties developed.The name Ki Utsuri was only applied when the variety was stabilised in 1920 by Mr. Elizaburo Hoshino. It is a great pity that they are now uncommon and rarely seen. The vast majority of Utsuri now available are Shiro Utsuri which were developed in Niigata prefecture in the mid 1920's.

There are a great many similarities between Utsuri and Showa varieties, indeed the Shiro Utsuri could almost be considered as a Showa without any Hi (red). In fact, the breeding of Showa does often produce Utsuri. The points to look for therefore are much the same as with Showa.The basic sumi (black) pattern of Utsuri should be solid dense black and is generally very dominant in this variety. Having said that many of today's modern Utsuri, just as with Showa, have greater areas of white, producing a more delicate overall effect. The Sumi however should always be a rich solid black to provide the contrast against the white skin. Snow white skin is particularly valued in this variety.

Utsuri breeders in recent years have improved the white significantly and are now producing Koi with exceptional clear white body colour which is considered to be one of the main criteria of quality in Utsuri. Koi with good Sumi pattern but without fine white skin are much downgraded. The Sumi pattern should always extend onto the head, preferably dividing it and running down to the nose. Be wary of too much head sumi as this always increases with age and can lead to an undesirable black headed Koi. Many Utsuri have creamy or a yellow cast to the head usually a sign they are not of the highest quality.

Body markings on Utsuri, just as with Showa, should be large and imposing with well defined clear edges. Small markings give a broken look. The Sumi should also wrap around the body i.e. extend below the lateral line. As with all patterned Koi, balance is the key, not only from back to front but also side to side, this is especially important on a two coloured Koi with such contrasting colours. Underlying Sumi is often visible as grey under the skin, which, when developed, should produce stable black markings although there can be no guarantees as this variety is very changeable.The pectoral fins should have motoguro, black ball joints with black radiating outwards and not merely stripes. Utsuri with all black pectoral fins are often found giving a heavy appearance which is undesirable. The Sumi often extends into the dorsal and tail fins, which providing they are not totally black, is acceptable.

The other two colour varieties, the Hi (red) and the Ki (yellow) Utsuri should have all the previous points, but both tend to suffer from one serious drawback, that of black speckling on the red or yellow, this does detract from the overall appearance. Indeed this could be one of the reasons for these varieties not now being produced in any quantity. Specimens with no staining are very rare and highly valued, especially when large. The speckling tends to develop as the Koi gets older. The other important feature to look for is a uniform red or yellow colour, heads are often different in colour from the body. Having said all this, if you are looking for these varieties the choice will be so limited that it may not be possible to be too critical. One final point in selecting any of the three types of Utsuri – as they are basically a black Koi with coloured markings, they will always tend to produce more black as they grow older. It is perhaps wisest therefore to look for Koi with potential rather than one whose pattern is fully developed when small, as they always tend to darken and never the reverse.

Stan Collinge