The Showa is the last of the Big Three varieties collectively known as Go Sanke, and historically it's by far the youngest. It wasn't until 1927, in Niigata, when Jukichi Hoshino crossed a Ki Utsuri with a Kohaku that the first Showa came to be. These early fish displayed very poor, yellowish hi and indifferent sumi. Then, in 1965, Tomiji Kobayashi improved the strain by crossing a female Showa with a male Sanke and a male Kohaku. The resulting fry wore deep scarlet hi, glossy black sumi, and snow-white skin akin to those we appreciate today.
What to look for in a Showa...
In order to maintain the fervent color and style of today's modern taste in Showa, breeders out cross parents with Sanke and Kohaku. Traditionally, the dominant color in a Showa is their hi, with sumi and white in roughly equal proportions. If more than half the body is red when viewed from above, the Showa is referred to as a Hi Showa. But whereas an Aka Sanke is not a very subtle fish, its Showa equivalent can look stunning. This is due to the amount of sumi in the pattern, which needs very little white to accent it. This effect is helped along by the pectoral fins and their motoguro, although clear white fins are now acceptable in modern Showa. Hi Showa are sometimes difficult to distinguish from Hi Utsuri, but if any white skin is visible when the koi is viewed from above, the koi is a Showa.
Pattern configuration in Showa more flexible than most other breeds. Rather than being judged by the conformity of their three colors, each koi is judged on its overall impression. It is true to say that really good examples of mature Showa are harder to come by than their Sanke or Kohaku equivalents. A common defect is seen in koi that look wonderful from the head to a point along the dorsal fin, with well-proportioned hi, sumi, and white skin, but lack any bold areas of hi from that point back to the caudal fin. The initial impression may still be good, as Showa rely on color contrast for their impact, but for a koi to win in shows it must display uniform excellence from nose to tail.
The pectoral fins are another point that can let down an otherwise good Showa. Motoguro present on one fin and not on the other is a flaw, as well as the more common defect of both fins showing a uniform black. Depending on the parentage, this sumi may or may not recede later. There are even cases of koi with one pectoral fin showing motoguro and the other having the typical striping of a Sanke - which often happens after out crossing to a Sanke parent.
Tancho Showa are much like Shiro Utsuri but with a patch of hi confined to the head. This is usually struck through with sumi in the same way as the head marking on conventional Showa.
Showa do not have bloodlines in the same sense as the other Go Sanke. A relatively small percentage of any spawning will be true to type. The first culling should retain only all-black fish, which may represent as little as 30 percent of the total, while the following thinnings need to be more severe. Inbreeding in this variety leads to a higher than normal number of fish with congenital defects, which may be as obvious as a deformed mouth or spine, or as subtle as a slight misalignment of the tail when viewed from above.
Tategoi Showa represent not just a challenge, but a substantial gamble. Only by studying many other fish from the same breeder is it possible to make even an educated guess as to how the sumi will look when the koi matures. Areas of hi, too, will come and go; it is a myth that hi is always stable and sumi transient, something you can confirm by keeping a photographic record of Showa as they grow.
As the koi grows, emerging Showa sumi can appear blue-gray or brownish-black, and rather than having clearly defined kiwa (white scales overlaying the hi) and sashi (red scales overlaying the white), it may cover an area of skin in a reticulated pattern that allows individual scales to show through. Koi that retain a predominance of this shadowy sumi into adulthood are known as Kage Showa, but for every true example there are many more in which the sumi will ultimately develop fully to a deep lacquer-like gloss.