Shubunkin care guide

Shubunkin (朱文金, red brocade) — is one of artificially bred ornamental species of tank goldfish (Carassius gibelio forma auratus) that has transparent scales and fancy coloring.

Habitat in the wild

Officially shubunkin selective bred of the goldfish (one of the bred variants) was developed by Japanese specialists in about 1900. The fish got to Europe much later only after the 1st world war. Though in the USA it was known some time earlier.

This ‘goldfish’ breed became popular in England and at the beginning of 1920 a new kind of the breed was developed, it was called London shubunkin. In 1934 Bristol Aquarist Society bred another species named Bristol shubunkin as well as published the breed standard. It defined the fish as the one with elongated body shape and well developed tail fin.

However, nowadays London shubunkin is far more spread and it is most likely that this is the one you will see on sale.

A bit later the third type appeared – American Shubunkin which have a slimmer body shape, pointed tail fins, and longer finnage all around.

Scientific NameCarassius auratus auratus
Common NamesShubunkin; shubunkin goldfish
Range and habitatNo
Size15-20 cm (6-8 in)
Lifespan6-8 years
Ease of keepingEasy
Minimum tank size200 liters (52 US gallons)
Temperature20-23 °C (68-73 °F)
Water hardness5-25 dGH


Shubunkin has elongated, flattened from sides body like the one of its wild ancestor – common carp. What makes the fish different from other goldfish is its body – it is short, wide and rounded. The fins are long and always open, the tail fin is claw-ended.

If the fish dwells in a tank, its length is about 15-20 cm (6-8 in), though some sources report that they reach a length of 9 to 18 inches (23 to 46 cm). The latter is quite possible, though only for the fish in ponds and provided with very high feeding.

The shubunkin lifespan is about 6-8 years.

The shape of the body and fins resembles the ordinary goldfish. What makes shubunkin different, is its transparent scales due to which the fish is called ‘scaleless goldfish’ and its bright fancy coloring. Therefore such a coloring of the fish got the name ‘brocade’.

The most rarely encountered are the species with bluish body and dark red, brown, yellow and black spots scattered around it. This fish breeds true.

Difficulties in keeping

This gorgeous fish is one of the most enduring goldfish breed variations. They are simple in care, not demanding in terms of either feeding or tank conditions. This is an active fish and it is good for community tanks.

Care and keeping in a tank

Tank size

As we’ve already mentioned shubunkin is one of the most undemanding fish in terms of keeping. In Japan which is its birthplace, the fish is kept in ponds, though the temperature may be quite low there in winter.

Since the fish is quite small (as a rule it is about 15 cm long), you will need a tank of about 200 liters (52 US gallons) capacity. But it is better to get a larger tank, because the fish is a good swimmer.

Tank decor

At that shubunkin likes digging the tank bottom substrate, scattering dirt and digging out tank plants. Therefore, you should put there only plants with strong roots that will survive at such conditions. To remove the dirt the fish digs its is rather desirable to have a powerful external filter.

It’s better to use sand or large gravels as a tank bottom substrate. Goldfish digs the bottom all the time and quite often they swallow large substrate grains and die because of this.

Water parameters

You should renew about 20% of the tank water once a week. As for the tank water parameters, they may vary greatly, but these are the optimal ones: 5 — 25 dGH, pH 6.0 to 8.0, tank water temperature 20-23 °C (68-73 °F). Low water temperature is determined with the fact the fish originated from a crucian carp and it stands low temperatures quite well. However, high temperatures reduce the lifespan.


Shubunkin is an omnivorous fish, it will eat all types of frozen, live and artificial food. The diet should contain 50-70% of vegetable component and 30-50% of protein one. To keep the tank water clean feed the fish with high quality food (flakes or pellets).

The main thing is not to overfeed the fish, since it is prone to intestinal obstruction. It is dangerous to overfeed the fish with a bloodworm since it causes flatulence, the fish looses its balance and dies as a result.

Tank mates

You can’t keep the fish with predator fish species or with those who like nipping fins.

Gender differences: male vs female

Male is slimmer than the female and it has saw-like notches on the first ray of its pectoral fins. During the pre-spawning and spawning period white small outgrowths (like semolina grains) appear on the male gill covers.

The female has more rounded body filled with eggs.