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.
Karakusa patterns show intertwining vines and leaves in curvy lines, often designed with flowers and fruits. The pattern is said to have originated from palmette (a decorative motif resembling the fan-shaped leaves of a palm tree) of ancient Greece and Rome.
The pattern was introduced to Japan from China in the Kofun period (mid-3rd to 7th century). The strong vitality of vines that trails on the ground was highly valued, and the pattern eventually came to be designed even alongside plants with no vines such as pines, chrysanthemums and plums.
Karakusa pattern, or Japanese foliage scroll, is the most well-known and popular pattern often seen on furoshiki wrapping cloth. The photo shows the same pattern with a modern twist on a woven obi. The simple design matches well with kimonos with plain patterns.
Chrysanthemum flowers (kiku) are combined with karakusa in this pattern. It was designed on crafts from the Kamakura period (1185-1333) as well as Noh costumes and meibutsu-gire from later periods. After Edo period (1603-1867), the pattern came to be designed on muslin fabrics with indigo stencil dyeing, adding flair to affordable everyday kimono and quiltings. Today, the pattern can be seen on kimono and obi, such as in the woven pattern seen in the photo.
Zuichou (phoenix) is an auspicious creature that was said to appear at a time of peace and tranquility in Chinese folk tales. The phoenix came to be used as design motifs in the Nara period (710-794). Coupled with karakusa, this pattern is known as one of the auspicious patterns.
<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).