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Thread: Sumi Is Sumi

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    Daihonmei MikeM's Avatar
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    Sumi Is Sumi

    This past weekend I got into a discussion about different types of sumi. A person listening in asked, 'Isn't sumi always black?' And, of course the answer is yes, except when it is gray. It reminded me of a statement made by JR some years ago when I was mentioning Atarashi Sumi ['New Fashion Sumi']. He commented that all sumi is melanin pigment and therefore the same. He commented in the context of warning folks not to get too excited over claims of there being a 'new sumi'. He was quite correct, of course. All sumi is black pigment. At the same time, there is an amazing spectrum of sumi intensity to be found among koi. This has always been so, but today the range has expanded to include a degree of intensity only dreamed about. Indeed, the breeders are constantly making advances. A few days ago Mat McCann (Quality Koi U.S.) posted some photos on FB of koi that would be going to the mud for another year. There was one Showa with such intense sumi that it truly looked like some photo-shopped fantasy. 15 years ago, you would have been hard-pressed to find any koi of size with such intense sumi. Back then, it was 'baby sumi' on a young tosai that had such intensity... for a fleeting period of a couple of months in cold water. Now it can be found in a mudpond in New Jersey on sansai and older koi. The sumi of Showa always had a dullness to it due to melanin being less concentrated compared to Sanke. The notion of getting the lacquer sumi of Sanke to appear on Showa has long been a breeding goal. In many respects, that goal has been accomplished... although often at the cost of losing traditional Showa patterning.

    Anyway, in the course of the weekend discussion, it became apparent that the differing sources of sumi were not known. Perhaps it does not matter much, but I find the historical roots add to truly appreciating the advances in sumi quality. So, I think it important to understand that Sanke and Showa had entirely different origins. The differences in their sumi historically was not just a matter of patterning. Ray Jordan explained a bit of the history:

    "Ray Jordan: Lots of questions and facets to these questions of black based and white based koi. This really all goes back to the beginnings of koi history and genealogy. There were several orginal lineages for "black" and "white" based koi that have in various combinations produced along with introduction of Doitsu all the modern forms today. Showa were a development from the Tetsu (iron carp) lineage originally, which produced Hi Goi. When some Hi Goi were crossed back to some magoi ... Old Style Hi & Ki Utsuri's with a new type of pattern called "wrapping" was developed. From the Utsuri branch the first original showa were produced in 1927. These original showas would not be recognizable by us today. They were grey, yellow and white with matsuba markings and striped fins. They did not have menware type patterns or motoguru yet. These original showa (black based) were crossed with kohaku (white based) in the 1960's to produce the first modern showa that you would identify today. In the late 1970's to present day Showas were crossed with Sanke (white based) to get better black and beni development. My point is that the current day showas are not really any longer a pure black based koi because it has been crossed with white based koi. Finally the modern Shiro Utsuri's we see today were developed from modern showa lineage and thus have also inherited both black and white based genetics. So to call Showas and Utsuris a black based koi is really more of a historical label than a genetic reality today. "

    Thus, when considering the historic Showa, it is useful to recall that it originated from the tetsugoi, while Sanke originated from magoi. Sumi from these different origins differs in behavior, patterning and intensities. For over a half century, breeders have worked at getting Sanke-type sumi to have Showa-type patterning. At this point in the journey, they have accomplished something wonderful. The best sumi today is better than what any Sanke possessed back when the effort started. That is something to get excited about. The best has gotten better, and I expect it get even better still. And, when such sumi appears with Showa-style patterning (including motoguru) it is a marvel. ....And gorgeous on a Sanke, too.

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    Jumbo Appliance Guy's Avatar
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    The goal post keeps moving further...

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