Kimono Patterns―30
Chrysanthemum: Symbolizing longevity, from an ancient Chinese legend

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.

Continuing from Parts 26 – 28, here are some more patterns that reflect the changing seasons.

Obi featuring a kiku-bishi pattern, structured by diamond shapes made of chrysanthemum flowers. The bold combination of black and white accentuates the uniqueness of the pattern.

The chrysanthemum was brought to Japan from China from the Nara period to the Heian period, and is one of the most famous plants that symbolize longevity. This is due to the legend of a villager who prolonged his life by drinking water which came from a region at the headwaters of the Yellow River in China, where chrysanthemums flowered in colonies. Another legend tells that life was prolonged by drinking water from a mountain stream where drops of chrysanthemum dew fell.

In fact, chrysanthemum has antibacterial properties and is used in dishes such as kiku-namasu (namasu=dishes seasoned with sweetened vinegar) and kiku-sake (sake infused with chrysanthemum). Since the Heian period in Japan, sechie ceremonies were held at the imperial court in autumn and it became a tradition to drink kiku-sake. The chrysanthemum, which became rooted in Japanese culture, came to be cherished as the flower of autumn.

The use of chrysanthemums in various patterns began in the Edo period (1603-1868), and such designs can still be seen today in designs of Noh costumes and others. The variety of patterns include realistic designs of chrysanthemum flowers and leaves, as well as geometric designs which feature combinations with diamond shapes <see article here> and with circles. Although chrysanthemums are considered the flower of autumn, they can be used in any season of the year.


Kiku-bishi (Chrysanthemum diamonds)

Chrysanthemums with overlapping petals are cut out in diamond shapes and placed on a white background for a bold look. Pair it with an obi that coordinates with the gold of the flower.

Chrysanthemum flowers arranged in a diamond shape, or a diamond shape filled with chrysanthemum flowers, are collectively called kiku-bishi patterns. Like other chrysanthemum patterns, it has been used since ancient times and is sometimes combined with other patterns. It is also used in family crests as well as in Edo komon textile, where small kiku-bishi patterns are scattered all over the cloth.


Kiku-sui (Chrysanthemums in flowing water)

This pattern consists of chrysanthemum flowers floating in flowing water, with some designs showing flowers half hidden under the surface. This pattern is named after the aforementioned Chinese legend and has been known since ancient times as an auspicious pattern wishing for longevity.

It was not until the Kamakura period (1192-1333) that it was used as a pattern in Japan, and it is also used in family crests. It was also widely used in Noh costumes and kosode in the Edo period.


Kiku-zukushi (A collection of chrysanthemums)

When the cultivation of chrysanthemums became popular during the Edo period, different varieties of chrysanthemums were created. Showing a variety of colors and shapes, the patterns or combinations of them are known as kiku-zukushi motifs.


Kiku-no-maru (Chrysanthemum circles)

This is a pattern composed of chrysanthemum flowers and leaves structured in a circle, or a pattern in which chrysanthemums are arranged within a circle. It has been used in kimono since ancient times and can be seen today on kimono and obi in dyed or woven patterns. It is generally used in combination with similar circular designs of pine, cherry blossom, and Japanese apricot blossoms.

<Recommended season for wearing this kimono pattern>
Autumn, year-round


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