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 take a look at patterns that have been imported from abroad.
In the world of Japanese tea ceremony, meibutsu refers to items selected by masters such as Sen no Rikyu, who established the wabi-cha style of tea ceremony. Meibutsu-gire refers to the cloth used to hold or receive such tools and bowls during tea ceremonies. Many of these meibutsu-gire are heavily influenced by dyed and woven fabrics from India and Southeast Asian countries, brought into Japan via China around Kamakura (1185-1333) and early Edo (1603-1867) periods.
There are different types of meibutsu-gire, depending on the techniques used to weave the patterns. Varieties include kinran (woven patterns using golden threads), ginran (woven patterns using silver threads), donsu (with background patterns woven using raw silk threads and scoured threads, on thick, glossy fabric), kantou (woven stripe patterns), nishiki (woven patterns using more than two colors of threads), futsu (woven patterns weaving the same design on the front and back sides), shouha (woven patterns in zig-zag shapes), and others.
In addition to the above terms, there are special meibutsu-gire with unique names such as suminokura-kinran and wakuta-shouha. There are various origins for these names — some are taken from the names of tea ceremony tools, or the owners who cherished the cloths, while others are based on the names of places and temples where the cloths were found or manufactured in, or simply from the names of the patterns on the cloths.
Today, these patterns are widely seen not only in the world of tea ceremony but also on casual and fashionable kimono and obi.
The name of the pattern is said to be taken from a piece of cloth gifted to a famous geisha Yoshino Tayu from Haiya Jyoueki, a wealthy merchant and tea connoisseur of Kyoto. Yoshino Tayu later became Haiya’s wife.
The thick vertical lines are accented with thinner lines in dark red and white. Coupled with horizontal lines woven in raised designs, they give a three-dimensional effect to the overall pattern.
This photo shows another variety of Yoshino-kantou pattern where the red, brown and white lines are designed in cross stripes.
Stylized patterns of animals and plants are designed inside geometric structure in this Arisugawa-nishiki pattern. The photo shows a pattern inspired by a famous piece named “Arisugawa-umamon” which was passed down in the Maeda clan of the Kaga domain. Horses are designed inside octagonal windows formed by rectangles with the four edges cut off.
Itoya-futsu is the name of the cloths coveted by Itoya Souyu, one of Sen no Rikyu’s disciples. The alternative name of the pattern is “Itoya-rinpou”, taken from the rinpou (Buddhist tool) designs on the fabric. Rinpou patterns are designed with golden threads on a woven fabric made out of white and navy-colored threads.
Iyosu-dare patterns were seen on cloths used alongside well-known cha-ire (tea containers) such as “Ankokuji katatsuki cha-ire” and “Iyosudare cha-ire”, with the name of the pattern taken from the latter. The cobble paving pattern is added to the stripes, alongside takara-zukushi motifs (more on takara-zukushi here).
While the name includes “kantou” which refers to stripes, the name actually is derived from canton(Guangzhou)-nishiki fabrics found in Horyuji temple. The splashed-patterned fabric uses warps that are dyed in different (in this case, around five) colors. There are various theories on where the name “Taishi” came from. Some say it is derived from Shotoku Taishi, a prominent politician of the Asuka period (592-710) who is said to have used the cloth, while others say the name originated from Taishiya Souyu, a tea ceremony practitioner who coveted the item.
The name comes from how the circular flower pattern resembles strawberries (ichigo). The pattern is widely seen on hikiya-bukuro (a bag used to keep hikiya, wooden containers that hold chai-re). It is said to have been produced in Southern China and around Persia in the 17th century.
The name is said to have come from the Noh program in which Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the Muromachi period (1392-1573) shogun, wore a costume made with this fabric. Patterns of phoenix facing each other are drawn inside circles, woven with golden threads on a dark purple fabric. It was often used on the cloth for cha-ire of famed tea items.
<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).