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.
In this week’s stories, let’s delve into the picturesque and unique world of Japanese patterns.
The diamond shape, composed of four slanted lines, is called hishi in Japanese. When the shape is arranged in a sequence, the pattern can be called in alternative names such as naname-goshi (slanted diamond grid) and tasuki pattern. Some say that the diamond pattern was derived from water weeds growing in ponds and swamps, while others say it is a graphic representation of water chestnuts. Found on earthenware from as far back as the Jōmon period , the pattern has long been used to add art to various items.
The hishi pattern became the most popular in the Heian period when the court nobles began using it for their costumes as one of the yusoku patterns. It became one of the most widely used geometric patterns and was designed on dyed and woven fabrics as well as crafts.
From the simple hishi shape, many variations have emerged over the years ― hanabishi (diamond with a four-petaled flower inside), mukai-tsurubishi (two cranes with their wings spread out facing each other inside a diamond; see Tsuru article here), and yotsubishi (four diamonds combined), just to name a few.
Hishimon is the collective term for various patterns where the hishi shape is used in repetition. Patterns with small hishi shapes in a sequence, like the one shown in the photo above, is widely used in dyed kimono such as casual komon kimono. Meanwhile, more refined yusoku patterns with hishi shapes are used on obi (sash) for formal wear.
This pattern (shown in the photo above and below) shows large hishi with smaller hishi shapes attached above and below. The name is said to have come from how the pattern looks like the bark of a pine (matsu) tree peeled off.
A four-petaled flower inside a diamond frame, the pattern is often used in combination with other patterns. Its elegant shape makes it versatile for woven patterns on white kimono textile to be dyed, and woven patterns on obi. Four hanabishi combined into one hishi shape is called yotsu-hanabishi.
<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).