Japanese fabrics, Japanese Patterns

The Meaning of Objets & Representations on Japanese Fabrics

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.

Waves: Nami

Historically associated with the gods of the sea. Further, this pattern evokes strength.

OBJECTS

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.

Umbrellas: Kasa

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

Cloves: Chôji

They were used to cure, dye, perfume, and had a high value.

The Key: Kagi

Opening the treasure house of Gofd

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