Kimono Patterns―4
Tessen (Clematis): An early summer flower with delicate curves

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 three patterns of summer flowers and plants that add an elegant touch of the season to any kimono style.

Tessen, known as Asian virginsbower (or more generally as clematis) in English, is a unique plant in the buttercup family with tendril-like stems and white or purple flowers that bloom in early summer. The name tessen―which also means “steel wire” in Japanese―is said to be taken after its hard vines that resemble wires.

Tessen is an iconic flower of the season from May to June. Its large flowers are sometimes emphasized in bold patterns.

The plant was introduced to Japan after the mid-Muromachi period (15th century), and was often read in haiku and used in designs during the Edo period (1603-1867). Today, we can find Noh costumes and kosode (a type of narrow-sleeved kimono worn typically until the Edo period) from the Momoyama period (1573-1603) with tessen drawn like foliage scrolls.

The characteristics of the tessen flowers, leaves and vines are depicted well in this obi pattern, embroidered on an ecru-colored linen textile.

Along with the plant’s unique vines, its elegant flowers and leaves are rendered in tessen patterns. The pattern can be seen on dyed kimonos such as yuzen (kimono created with Japanese resist-dyeing techniques), bingata (kimono from Okinawa) and yukata (casual cotton kimono originally worn after bathing), as well as in embroideries and weavings.  It gives a very fresh, summery look when used alone in a kimono style. The pattern is suitable all year around when combined with other flower motifs.

<Recommended season for wearing this kimono pattern>


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).


2020 Autumn / Winter

Spotlight on Heritage