Atarashi Sumi & Baby Sumi

One of the first things that almost every new Koi keeper struggles with is the difference between Showa and Sanke, well if you have mastered this difference then read on, if not go to a different article, as what follows will just confuse you even more!

Firstly I would like to deal with a new Sumi development.

For every Koi breeder the aim is the continual pursuit of improvement to create higher quality Koi. Over the last two decades Beni has been improving immensely and has resulted in high quality Go-Sanke being bred at many farms. After dealing with attributes and requirements of high quality Beni in my last article I am now going to try and convey the details of the latest advancement in Sumi development.

After stabilising the red area on GoSanke the only colour left to improve was the Sumi, up until recent years due to the differing characteristics of Beni and Sumi cells, Sanke Sumi had changed very little for many years. Sanke Sumi markings are formed by the black colour cells and appears in its early stages as scattered spots that merge into Sumi patches or angular blocks, hopefully all being positioned along the back of the Koi starting behind the head and finishing before the Ojime ( but never quite so regimented in real life). Historically the Sumi patches had no relevance to the scale; they came through from the Nanshitusu Shinpi (middle skin) and developed on the Hyousou Shinpi (top/surface skin) and had Kamisori Kiwa.

Classic Sanke Sumi

Sanke Sumi

Occasionally amongst the regular Sanke produced a certain type of Sumi would occur on the Koi and was described as Maruzome Sumi. It was widely acknowledged that Maruzome Sumi had characteristics that would make a truly stunning impact on the style and look of Sanke and would be in real terms be a new bloodline if it was achieved regularly and then stabilised. One of the most ardent experimenters and creators of this rare but welcomed occurrence is Toshio Sakai of Matsunosuke fame.

Maruzome by definition is the style of Kiwa that determines the end of a colour plate, the coloured edge where it meets the Shiroji (white ground). It is the mixing of Sanke and Showa blood that has changed Sanke Sumi (and also Showa Sumi), we are now seeing for the first time Sanke Sumi that has Maruzome Kiwa. It is not just the trait of the Kiwa following the scale that the Sanke Sumi has taken from the Showa lineages but also the thickness of the Sumi and its location.

It is here where it starts to really blur the lines between Showa and Sanke, the Sumi on the new style Sankes is now showing far more frequently below the lateral line and like on Showa it also develops from the bottom upwards. This creates what can only be described as a Showa/Sanke, but is really just a Sanke with Showa Sumi. When viewing these Koi you really need to have a solid grounding in GoSanke appreciation or it would be very easy to confuse and even dismiss this new style Sanke as an under developed Showa. Toshio Sakai has stated that he has now stabilised this style of Sumi that is called ‘Atarashi Sumi’ and that he feels that this new Sumi has many Keito (traits) that are now on a par with the Beni of a Koi, such as its elasticity, which enables the Sumi to develop and increase in intensity and depth as the Koi grows.

As the new Atarashi Sumi Sanke becomes more available we will start seeing many more GoSanke from all over Japan being produced with Atarashi Sumi. As the new style Sankes are so striking and very different to other GoSanke it may pan out in the years to come that we will find a new Koi variety has actually been produced, as opposed to a ‘new take’ on an old one. I personally am not a fan of this new development, if I want Showa Sumi I would buy a Showa and vice a versa with Sanke Sumi, however just because I do not like it does not mean I do not appreciate its merits, perhaps I’m just a bit of a purist.

Secondly, I would like to clear up a regularly used saying that is very misleading and incorrect.
I have heard the term ‘Sumi comes and Beni goes’ used by many people and every time I feel the need to put them straight! In some cases I have really been wasting my time as I felt that what I was saying was falling of deaf ears, so I thought maybe if I dispelled the phrase in print I might not have to listen to it anymore!

Sumi in most cases does in fact ‘come’ as the phrase states but as with everything Koi, never make the mistake of assuming everything is so cut and dried. The notion that all Sumi comes is completely dispelled by the Kobayashi Showa lineage, these Koi when young are always overlooked by western buyers. Kobayashi Showa have a particular Keito (trait) that manifests itself as a grey sheen that covers the Koi at a young age. It is at this point that I have to hold my hands up and admit that when I first used to see these ‘grey’ Showa I like most of the uneducated regarded these koi as poor quality and gave them a wide berth.

Sanke or Showa?

Sanke or Showa?

All Sanke and all from the same breeder. Note although some of the Koi look like Showa, the Sumi is more angular on all the Koi and bears no relevance to the scale. It follows its own path, i.e is Kamisori.

It was only when visiting a breeder in late spring one year that I observed six different hobbyists all selecting out several ‘grey’ Showa. I paid little attention to this initially as I was at this particular breeder to purchase Kohaku. Eventually my inquisitiveness got the better of me (nosiness would probably be a better choice of words!) and as I watched and listened I realised that these Koi were held in extremely high regard. At this point I asked the breeder why these Koi were being so revered, as to me, the western Koi dealer they were ‘grey’.
He went on to explain that his Showa were from the Kobayashi line and that many of these koi have what he described as ‘baby’ or ‘junior’ Sumi as well as ‘proper’ Sumi. The baby or junior Sumi was in fact the temporary ‘grey’ sheen that covered these koi and was nothing to worry about as it would be overpowered by the Shiroji (white skin) and Beni as the fish matured and its skin thickened. (As with the Sashi on the Sensuke line Kohaku featured in last months Beni article). A lesson had definitely been learnt and I was then invited to join the hobbyists and select some Showa!

I did in fact select several Showa that were ‘grown on’ in Japan for a season and then sold in the UK as Nisai; I also brought back a small number of the young Showa and found them very difficult to sell. This was not surprising really as the UK hobbyists did not have the luxury of having the breeder on hand to passionately explain why these Koi were really worth purchasing. So if you are ever in Japan and see a pond of small grey Showa stop for a while, use your Koi ‘eye’ and have ago at selecting one. I will give you one tip, turn the Koi upside down as this will allow you see the whiteness and skin lustre through the grey. Purchasing Tosai is almost an art form and as with any type of art appreciation is everything.

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