In ideogram, the drawing of a bird or a flower, in a simple geometric pattern …. beyond the sole aesthetic value, there is a symbol, a personality feature, a wish, a story, a custom, … all those pattern have a secular use in Japan, and are traditional on garments, but also ceramics, lacquer, linens, … and even in garden, when drawn in gravels or sand.
The idea here is to enable you to quickly and simply know what could mean your Japanese fabric. I will update it, when I notice something missing.
To ease the reading, there are 4 different posts (others concern the geometric patterns, the animals, and the flowers).
THE NATURAL ELEMENTS
Les Mountains: Yama
They are venerated in Japan, which nature is rugged, and sometimes hostile. It is also linked with shintoism: the mountains are sacred areas, between the earth and the sky, were are the divinities (or spririts): the kamis.
Rivers / Water Ways: Kawa
They are represented in a more or less stylized or figurative way.
They bring life from the mountain. They also symbolize the stream of life, continuity.
The Clouds: Kumo
It’s a purely decorative pattern -linked with the admiration for nature – with the classical meaning of clouds: hope, impermanence, omen, proximity to Gods, change, ….
It is also used as a signature / crest by the Japanese carpenters.
There are infinite shapes, more or less stylized, sometimes with other patterns.
The Snow Flakes: Yukiwa
This is a positive omen, because the snow feeds the soil and suggests good harvests.
It can also be worn to somehow “feel” fresher when it’s hot.
Historically associated with the gods of the sea. Further, this pattern evokes strength.
Fans: Uchiwa / Sensu / Ougi
Because it opens, the fan is an auspice for development and prosperity
Paper Ribbons: Noshi
The ribbons are used to wrap presents, during celebrations or ceremonies, to express best wishes.
It is related with an old religious practise,: offer abalone (fresh or dried) to Gods in a paper cone (Shinto). The abalone was very prized, and possessing virtues linked with health and longevity -in Japan like in many other countries-.
Embroidered Balls: Temari
These are decorative balls.
Historically, it was a ball made from remnants of leather or scrap fabric. It became a craftsmanship, a way to embroider.
The Japanese Drum: Tsuzumi
The drums (taiko), nowadays, are rather associated with celebrations, festivals, joy, entertainment.
Most often, on fabrics, we see this one: tsuzumi, more aesthetic: it is a traditional drum, used in folk music, nō theater and kabuki.
A traditional object.
Indispensable in the old Japan … and nowadays.
Phonetically, kasa also means hat, but is differently written.
Shells and Bow: Kai-awase
Kai means shells and awase matching. It was a game played by Japanese nobility (Heian era – IXe / XIIe century), aiming at finding the original pairs of shells (often clams, which inside was also adorned). The box (kaioke) was also richly decorated. This game was also a part of the wedding trousseau (among gentry).
Il peut symboliser une belle harmonie au sein du couple.
The Cart: Kuruma
Litt., it means vehicle. The one transporting the imperial family and nobles.
The Flower Cart: Hanaguruma
Litt., flower car. Historically, it could have any size, a,d was decorative. Nowadays, this word can be used to talk about the floral car of bridegroom, a huge floral cart during a festival, small and moveable wood cart with plant pots, etc.
Thhe Cart Wheel: Genjiguruma
This refers to the imperial vehicle. Its wheels were richly decorated, namely with auspicious patterns about fortune, longevity, …
Litt., it means the wheel of Genji (the hero of the novel, or Minamoto clan; Heian era), because his crest was featuring a cart wheel.
The wheel is also a pattern evoking change.
FEW LUCKY CHARMS
Lucky Charms: Takara Zukushi
The treasure … a bundle of lucky charms… often 7, which a lucky number in Japan. And since than more than 7 exist, they vary from a fabric to another.
The Magical Mallet: Uchide no Kozuchi
It fulfills the wishes.
It is in the hands of Daikokuten, one of the 7 divinities of luck, linked with prosperity and food.
In tales, it is often owned by ogres.
The Jewel: Hōju (ou hōshu)
From Buddhist origin. It has the shape of a teardrop (or ball), sometimes with flames (kaen hōju – flaming gem).
It pushed demons back, and helps to fulfill wishes.
It is also on the top of the mast, on the roof of Japanese des pagodas (sōrin).
The Hat of Invisibilty: Kakuregasa
In tales, its wearer becomes invisible.
Can also be a cape made of straw (mino), that serfs were using when raining.
The Dress / Coat of Feathers: Hagoromo
It enables to fly
The precious Rolls: Makimono / Hōkan
These are paper (or silk) rolls on which man writes, paints, draws. For a use that can be artistic, religious, educative, etc.
They symbolize the knowledge, the wisdom.
The Weights : Fundō
Used with a scale to calculate a weigth. They symbolize money, savings.
The Silver / Gold Bag: Kin’nō / Kanabukuro
It is never empty
They were used to cure, dye, perfume, and had a high value.
The Key: Kagi
Opening the treasure house of Gofd