Kimono Patterns ―35
Shika (deer): Vehicle of the gods, a sacred beast from ancient China

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  series will take a look at various types of kimono patterns, from those that can be worn year-round to those for special occasions. We will explore the meanings behind the designs as well as insights into styling a kimono attire.


In ancient China, deer were believed to be sacred as they were considered to be rides for gods. In Japan, deer are said to symbolize longevity and have long been used as motifs for pictures and other artworks. Deer are worshipped as god’s messengers in Kasugataisha Shrine in Nara and Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima.

Deer are usually designed alongside autumn motifs such as colored leaves and akikusa (autumn plants). Old examples include kosode (short-sleeved kimono) from the Heian period (794-1185) with designs of deer and colored leaves.

Shika-mon (Deer pattern)

Deer have long been a part of Japanese people’s lives. They have been used as patterns for a long time, starting with dotaku (bronze bells) from the Yayoi period (c. fourth century BC-AD third century) and dyed fabrics such as folding screens found in Shosoin (see article here). Today, the pattern is used on kimono and obi in combination with other autumn motifs.


Arisugawa-mon refers to deer patterns placed inside diamonds, s and octagons. The name was taken from Arisugawa-nishiki, a meibutsu-gire* stored by Arisugawanomiya from the imperial family, on which the pattern was found. Varieties of Arisugawa-mon include those with horses and flying dragons.

*In the world of Japanese tea ceremony, meibutsu refers to tea ceremony items selected by masters such as Sen no Rikyu, who established the wabi-cha style of tea ceremony. Meibutsu-gire is a cloth used alongside such tea ceremony tools and bowls. This Meibutsu-gire is said to have been imported via China around the Momoyama (1573-1603) period. Today, the pattern is used on kimono, obi and on white fabrics. The pattern can be used all year long.

The photo shows a kimono with deer patterns from the meibutsu-gire, Arisugawa-nishiki. The deer are uniquely depicted in straight lines to add fun to the design.

<Recommended season for wearing this kimono pattern>
All year round, fall


Kaku to kisetsu ga hitome de wakaru―Kimono no mon-yo
(Kimono Patterns―A guide to their rank and seasons )
All-color Revised Edition on sale March 18, 2021

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 at bookstores in Japan, or on Amazon and other online stores. 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