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. We will explore the meanings behind the designs as well as insights into styling a kimono attire.
Over the next weeks, we will be looking at various patterns that reflect the beauty of the four seasons.
Ume (Prunus mume) is a flowering tree of Chinese origin, and was introduced to Japan in the early Nara period (710-794). In China, the aromatic ume tree, which blooms ahead of other flowers in the severe cold, is considered an ideal symbol of a life of enduring adversities, and in Japan, the ume tree comes up often in the “Manyoshu”, endeared as a flower of good fortune.
A wide variety of ume patterns are used, either independently or in combination with other motifs.
Ume blooms ahead of various flowers, and thus used in kimono and obi worn in early spring. There is a wide variety of patterns, from a sole ume blossom pattern to one blossoming on branches.
Yukimochi-ume (Snow-covered Ume)
Ume, which bloom in early spring, are sometimes exposed to snow after they have bloomed. This pattern depicts eda-ume (ume branches) in a picturesque scene. This design showing a scene of snow falling on plants and trees is said to have been often used in the Momoyama period (1568-1582). The combination of white snow and red ume flowers is unique to the beauty of the four seasons of Japan, and is used in dyed obi and other items
Uraume (Reversed Ume)
This is a pattern of a ume flower viewed from the reverse side. The beauty of a flower is not limited to what can be seen on the front, thus many appearances seen from the side and back are also used in different patterns. The simple ura-ume pattern is one of them, and can also be seen used in family crests.
Yaeume (Multiflowered Ume)
This pattern depicts a yaeume by layering small flower petals. Compared to the pure and graceful single-flowered ume, the multiflowered ume gives an impression of daintiness and brilliance.
Ume no Maru (Ume Circles)
Circular motifs, like a family crest, are often used with designs of plants and birds, like this pattern of ume flowers designed in a circle. The auspicious combination of pine, bamboo and ume may also be featured in a single circle.
< Recommended season for wearing this kimono pattern>
Year-round, winter, New Year
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).