Japan, The universe of fabrics

The Meaning of Patterns & Animals 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 there is not to make an educational glossary, but simply to let you know quickly a fabric means. That’s why it is also limited to the patterns that I use or used, except for flowers, for which I have another post.


Stars / Diamonds: Asanoha

Literally meaning hemp leave. It represents this resistant plant, which grows straight and fast. And thus symbolizes a good and healthy growth, vigor, resistance or resilience, and then, by extension prosperity. It was logically mainly used on garments for babies and toddlers.

Also, it links 6 patterns around a central point, and 6 is a beneficial number.

Waves: Seigaiha

Literally, the sea and blue waves.  Represented by arches with concentric circles.

It evokes the calm, the quietness of the sea. And then peace. More indirectly, wealth or resilience.

Arrow fletchings: Yagasuri / Yabane

Originally linked with the art of archery, and so used on mens garments, it progressively became more feminine. The meanings are numerous, it’s a lucky charm.

It can then evoke the straight and immutable feature of an arrow, once shot. So, a kind of determination …. or a wish of happiness for the bride. In Buddhism, bow and arrow represent the fight against evil. In the Shinto temples, during new year, the “hamaya” (killing devil arrows) are sold in Japan as lucky charms.

Fans: Uchiwa / Sensu / Ougi

Because it opens, the fan is an auspice for development and prosperity

Shark Skin Motive: Same Komon

If it is said to evoke the shark skin, this pattern has no specific meaning. Il is often used as a background, on kimonos.

Wavec Pattern: Nami

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


The Carp: Koi

Koi is a lucky charm, for happiness, and prosperity.

The decorative fish was introduced in Japan during Japanese invasions. Because they swim upstream, run up rivers and waterfalls, they symbolize courage, perseverance, the ability to overcome and reach a goal. And since these are nice qualities, during the day of children (Kodomo no Hi), windsocks like Koi carps are raised on masts (koi nobori).

Making many eggs, Koi may also relate to fertility and kids.

Lastly, in Japanese, Koi means “carp” but also “be in love”.


Crane: Tsuru

In Japanese mythology, this big bird lives during 1000 years and represents longevity. It’s also very majestuous, and thus often associated with nobility.

If the crans are known for the beauty of their danses and coupling, they are also monogamous, and then often present on wedding kimonos, as an auspice for long and happy marriage.

Finally, the link between crane and peace comes from the legend of the 1000 cranes, and the story of Sadako Sasaki.

The Dragonfly: Tombo

The Island of Dragonflies has been the first name of Japan (Nihon Shiki).

The dragonflies have the specificity to only fly forwards. Then, for Japanese, they represent the courage of the one who does not go back and moves ahead in any circumstance.

The Peacock: Kujaku

In Japan, peacock is linked with a Buddhist divinity (Kannon in Japanese / Guanyin in Chinese, a bodhisattva associated with compassion).

It carries the values of kindness, goodness, love, care.

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