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.
Pumpkins, sponge gourds, cucumbers, watermelons, winter gourds, wax gourds, calabashes and bottle gourds … The variety of patterns based on plants in the gourd family are called uri patterns.
With their unique shapes, these plants are often made into graphics along with leaves and vines and can be seen on Noh costumes and kosode (a type of narrow-sleeved kimono worn typically until the Edo period). Some kyogen costumes from the Edo period also have dynamic, dyed prints of calabashes combined with ox cart wheels.
Oriental melon (a vegetable in the gourd family) is used as a motif in urimon. Often seen on yukata (casual cotton kimono originally used after bathing) and tenugui towels, it was the favorite pattern among the common folk in the Edo period. Today, it is used as a design on yukata as well as kimono and obi.
The kimono in the photo above has pictures of uri and kai (shells). An unusual combination, the pattern was depicted as a lucky charm for those in the trade business, depicting a play-on-word for “sell (uri) and buy (kai)”. The uniquely-shaped gourds add charm to the playful kimono pattern. The style, with this auspiciously-patterned kimono, is well suited for celebrations such as the new year’s.
Hyotan, an annual vine plant in the gourd family, is a variety of bottle gourd. Ripened fruits with hardened skin are used dried as accessories and utensils such as tokkuri sake containers. Its interesting hourglass-like shape became popular as patterns, often designed in combination with vines and leaves.
The photo above shows a hyotan pattern on an obi, with vines intertwined around a bamboo fence. This type of fresh hyotan is sometimes called narihisago (literally, “fresh calabash”), to differentiate it from the dried ones, hollowed out with their seeds removed.
On the right in the photo above shows quirky hyotan patterns printed across a fabric for nagajuban (long undergarment kimono). Dried hollow hyotan fruits are also called fukube or hisago. Sen-nari hyotan, a small type of hyotan that bears many fruits, is well known as the battle standard crest used by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a samurai lord of Japan’s warring states period of the 15th to 16th centuries.
<Recommended season for wearing this kimono pattern>
Summer, fall, and 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).