"The Breeding of a Champion"
It is not often that a full pictorial history of a koi is available, but thanks to the diligence of Sakai Fish Farms of Hiroshima, we are able to view the entire story of the winner of this year's All Japan Combined Koi Show.
This story began with a koi tragedy, the likes with which many of us are all too familiar. It seems that one day, when a certain Japanese hobbyist was treating his pond for anchor worm, he inadvertently put a massive overdose of organophosphate into his pond. This resulted in the death of many of the koi, with the survivors suffering symptoms ranging from color loss to severe spinal deformation.
The large female pictured in the first photo was one of the survivors of this tragedy. Impressed by her bone structure, vitality and inherent quality, Mr. Yoshimichi Sakai of Sakai Fish Farms asked her owner for permission to use her in the Sakai breeding program. By pairing her with a young male from Marudo Fish Farms (the smaller koi in photo #1) Sakai hoped to form the basis for a new bloodline for Taisho Sanke.
The resulting offspring were extremely promising as is evident in the second photograph. In honor of the hobbyist who provided the female, Sakai dubs the bloodline "Tanaka Sanke". Average size of the yearling koi was almost 14 inches, with each koi showing impeccable red and deep, laquer-like sumi. The Koi that was destined for greatness is shown at the lower left of the second photo. Note how the black is almost all placed strategically in the white field in the fashion known as "tsubo sumi". There is also just a small stripe of sumi in the left pectoral fin. The bold red pattern is destined to remain basically unchanged throughout this koi's development.
One would think that this success would have been cause for great celebrations, but Yoshimichi Sakai cautions against early exuberance. "It is really not very difficult to breed beautiful yearlings", says Mr. Sakai. "The real proof of a bloodline is apparent only in the fourth year koi, where we will see if the body can withstand intensive growing without losing it's confirmation. Only then will we know if the koi has the propensity to grow to the size necessary to compete for the major awards."
Sakai Fish Farms is famous for achieving rapid koi growth in the early years, and true to form, in the center of the third photo we see our subject has passed 20 inches at just 2 years of age. Apart from putting on considerable body mass, her basic pattern and the placement of the black remain almost unchanged.
As three years old and stretched out to over 26 inches, Sakai was finally allowing himself to get excited about this koi. The small stripe of sumi in the left pectoral has expanded to the point that it almost looks like motoguro on a Showa. The immense black sumi on the shoulder continues to solidify and provides an anchor for the vibrant red pattern.
Charmed by the potential of this Sanke and intrigued by it's naming origins, the three year old was purchased by Mr. Yoshio Tanaka (no relation to the other Tanaka), making Mr.Tanaka the owner of the Tanaka Sanke! After boarding his Sanke for one more year with the breeder, Mr. Tanaka took her home and kept her in his concrete pond for one more year. This stunning Sanke made her public debut as a 5 year old at the All Kanto Show where she was crowned the undisputed Grand Champion. Looking at this picture one would think there was truly no room for improvement. A flawless white sets the stage for the luxuriant red. The eye is irresistibly drawn to the bold black rectangular sumi patch, which is perfectly situated on her shoulder. Surely this is as good as it gets? Well, just when you think it can't possibly get any better, it did.
In January of 2000, Mr. Tanaka entered his Sanke in the 32nd All Japan Combined Koi Show, also known as The Greatest Show On Earth. Now measuring a full 33 inches at only six and a half years old, his Sanke was competing against koi that were not only considerably larger than her, but twice her age. By comparing her to her earlier photo, we notice that she has put on considerable girth, which gives her a commanding elegance. Her black has expanded, and thought it hardly seemed possible it is more intense than ever before. After three rounds of voting with 77 judges, the Tanaka Sanke is named Grand Champion of the 32nd All Japan Combined Koi Show.
By breeding a Koi that can grow to be Grand Champion of the "Greatest Show on Earth" in a mere six and a half years, Sakai Fish Farms of Hiroshima has pushed the envelope to its extreme and catapulted Koi keeping into the New Millenium.
P.S. Just an afterthought for the purists and the fault finders: please note that the Grand Champion of the 32nd All Japan Combined Show has red on the eye and black on the head. Hmmmmmm...