kimono pattern

Kimono Patterns―14
Asa-no-ha (Hemp leaves): Historic pattern seen on Buddhist statues

From ancient times, beautiful artistic patterns on kimono have reflected the Japanese people’s delicate senses towards the changing seasons and how social conventions in the country have changed through its history.
This weekly series will take a look at various types of kimono patterns, from those that can be worn year-round to those for special occasions, with a special focus on summer-themed patterns. We will explore the meanings behind the designs as well as insights into styling a kimono attire.

This week, let us explore the beauty of repetition in geometric patterns.

The photo shows a komon (daily wear) kimono made of dobby weave fabric, tie-dyed to create a unique asa-no-ha pattern. The large asa-no-ha pattern is designed with fading lines here and there for a soft look. Matched with a goldfish obi, the attire is perfect for a summer outing.

The asa-no-ha pattern is one of the waritsuke patterns that consist of one shape repeated across an area (more on waritsuke patterns here). Six triangles are combined together to make regular hexagons in this pattern. The name is said to have come from the pattern’s resemblance to hemp leaves. The pattern has been around since ancient times – it can be seen on Buddhist statues from the Heian period (794-1185), on which the pattern is created using the kirikane technique.

>Kirikane technique refers to a method which involves applying thin strips of metallic foils on the surface of an artwork to design patterns. Animal glue is often used for application. 

The pattern became popular among women in the late Edo period (1603-1867) after a Kabuki actor Arashi Rikan used this pattern on his costume playing a girl in the play“Imose no Kadomatsu”. Back then, the pattern was widely called “osome-gata”, named after “Osome”, the name of the role.


Asa-no-ha mon (hemp-leaf pattern)
When the asa-no-ha shape is repeated horizontally and diagonally, the pattern is called “asa-no-ha tsunagi” (meaning “linked asa-no-ha”).  After the pattern became popular among women in the Edo period, it became widely used on clothes for newborn babies and children’s underwear.

Because hemp grows straight up towards the sky, the pattern was often used on children’s garments to express wishes for their healthy growth.  It was a custom for parents in Japan to dress their newborn babies in asa-no-ha patterned clothes, in red for girls and in yellow or pale blue-green for boys. While the custom is no longer common, the traditional pattern still remains a regular on kimono, obi and naga-juban (full-length kimono undergarment).。


Yabure Asa-no-ha (torn hemp leaf)
Asa-no-ha pattern has many variations and yabure asa-no-ha is the most common of all. The repetition of the leaf is partially broken in this pattern.

Recommended season for wearing this kimono pattern
All year round, summer


Kaku to kisetsu ga hitome de wakaru―Kimono no mon-yo
(Kimono Patterns―A guide to their rank and seasons )
Supervised by Kenzo Fujii
(Sekai Bunka Publishing, in Japanese)

Featuring over 300 kimono patterns including the ones introduced in this story, the book helps readers learn about the history and meanings of kimono patterns through a rich variety of photos. Kimono and obi can be categorized into kaku (rank) depending on its material and patterns, and different occasions call for combinations of kimono and obi of the appropriate ranks. A practical and entertaining guide for all kimono lovers,  the book gives useful tips on common confusions related to the ranks and seasonal categorizations of patterns, as well as numerous kimono styling examples.

Available in Japan through Amazon and other online bookstores here. The book can also be ordered at bookstore counters in Japan with no shipping charges (the service may be unavailable at some stores).


2021 Spring / Summer

Inside Japan’s West