TRADITION
2020.07.17

Kimono Patterns―15
Uroko (Scales): A pattern seen worldwide since ancient times

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.

Uroko pattern consists of repeated equilateral or isosceles triangles. Combining triangles by their sharp edges creates another set of triangles in between. The name of the pattern came from its resemblance to fish and snake scales.

As the pattern is simple and easy to recreate, it has been around across the world since ancient times. In Japan, the pattern was seen on the walls of ancient tombs and on clay figurines. The battle standard of Hojo Tokimasa, a shogun of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), bears a pattern named mitsu-uroko (“three scales”), consisting of three triangles.

From the Muromachi period (1336-1573) on, the pattern was often seen on Noh costumes and battle surcoats. Today, uroko designs are used on Noh and kabuki play costumes for female ogres and incarnation of snakes.

kimono pattern


Uroko mon (scale pattern)
The basic uroko pattern is made out of repeated triangles with alternating colors.  It usually consists of same-sized triangles, but today there are numerous variations, and the name has become a collective term for patterns with triangle motifs.

The pattern is used widely on kimono, obi and other accessories for kimono attire. Variations of the uroko mon include those with additional patterns inside the triangles, as well as patterns with some of the triangles more emphasized than the others.

 

It is said that the triangle pattern represented demons and illnesses since ancient times, and people tried to ward off evil and other detested existences by deliberately drawing triangles on tomb walls and other objects, to signify evil succumbing to the gods.

Over time, triangles came to be used as a protective charm against misfortune. To this day, there is a custom in Kyoto of women wearing uroko-patterned naga-juban (full-length kimono undergarment) when they turn 33, an age considered unlucky for women.


When seeing Noh and kabuki plays, wearing a kimono inspired by the program of the day adds to the enjoyment. In the Noh play “Dojoji”, the possessed spirit of a female dancer appears in an uroko-patterned costume. The kabuki play “Kyoganoko Musume Dojoji” features Kiyohime, a woman who turns into a snake spirit also wearing an uroko-patterned costume.

【Recommended season for wearing this kimono pattern】
All year round

 

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).

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