Kimono, What is the Traditional Kimono Pattern?
If you’ve ever seen or worn a kimono, you probably noticed the beautiful kimono patterns. Japan is a country famous for its art and design, and this is also shown in kimono, with a vast array of different fabrics, colours, designs and patterns. The silhouette of kimono is largely always the same, so the pattern of the kimono becomes the mode for expression and creativity for the wearer. The majority of patterns, like a lot of Japanese culture, is inspired by the natural world.
Traditionally, the fabric and decoration of a kimono would indicate social status, since only the rich could afford luxurious silk. These days, the patterns become a way to express personal style or identity. The obi belt and extra accessories can also be used to add a touch of personality and interest. The wearer will often choose based on the season, embracing and enjoying the patterns and colours of that specific time of year.
Kimono patterns are not only decorative but also have special cultural meaning. Flowers, like sakura, ume peach blossom, wisteria and the Japanese maple(momiji) have seasonal significance as well as being symbolic metaphors for virtues such as longevity, rejuvenation and resilience. Animals and insects like rabbits or dragonflies often depict a playful nature. Since the Shinto and Buddhist traditions teach of the importance of harmony with nature, natural phenomena such as water, earth and clouds also inspire kimono patterns. Rivers depict continuity and the future, and mountains inspire us to overcome life’s challenges.
One especially traditional aspect of Japanese design which has recently resurrected is wagara, translated simply as ‘Japanese pattern’. Wagara developed in the Heian era from a combination of ancient calligraphy and traditional painting motifs. Using interlocking shapes and clean lines, wagara are repetitive, geometric designs derived from natural elements like waves and flowers.
The Basic Patterns for Kimono
The intersecting circles (Venn diagram anyone?) create a diamond shape, as this design is based on the Seven Jewels of Buddhism: gold, silver, lapis lazuli, agate, seashell, amber and coral.
Overlapping concentric circles create a wave motif. Waves, or water, symbolise power and resilience through the constant ebb and flow of life.
The six connected diamonds surrounding a common centre strongly resemble a hemp leaf, where this pattern gets its name. Hemp fabric has been used a lot in Japan for clothing and accessories. Since hemp grows very quickly, this pattern is often used for children’s clothes, in the hope that they too can grow strong and healthy.
Kimono Patterns – Not only Kimono or Yukata!
For a long time, wagara were used exclusively for kimono and yukata, so came to be seen as old-fashioned. As the kimono industry fell into decline, wagara were in danger of being forgotten as a lost art, until they recently started to be seen in modern designs for bags, accessories and interior household items. Nowadays, it’s easy to find wagara designs on everything from dishes and cups to hand-held fans and phone cases, even at your local 100 yen shop.
Kimono Patterns in A Special Occasion
Symbols and patterns might also be chosen for a special occasion. For a wedding, a guest might choose a pattern depicting a crane, or a pair of cranes to bestow good luck on the newlywed couple. These beautiful birds were believed to live for a thousand years, and they do mate for life, so they symbolise longevity and good fortune.
So, next time you see or wear a kimono, remember to bear in mind the powerful symbolic meaning behind your pattern, the seasonal context, your age and social status etc. Or, on the other hand, keep it simple and go for your favourite colour!