Description of the Sum Pattern
This section is an introduction and explanation of the traditional patterns likely to be found on kimono and other Japanese articles. A large number of recurring patterns and motifs are used, the greatest number of which include floral and nature themes and animals. Many motifs contain messages of hope for happiness for oneself and others, and others are imbued with moral principles for good living. When you give a gift of an item on which one of these beautiful themes is represented, you can delight the recipient with an explanation of the massage contained in the pattern.
SAKURA (Cherry Blossom)
The cherry blossom is the best-known symbol of spring in Japan, and is the best loved of all flowers. Every year at the beginning of spring, TV weather reports include information of the blooming of the cherry trees throughout the country so that everyone can enjoy the picnic known as hanami under these trees when they are in full bloom. The tradition of hanami (literally, flower-viewing), is said to have begun as a ritual prayer for bountiful harvest under the cherry trees, which were held to be the god of grains and cereals. The petals of these flowers remain on the trees for only a short while, but the sight of the pink petals dancing in the wind is a piece of scenery dearly loved by the Japanese people.
In Japan, the camellia is a very auspicious symbol, being a holy plant with the power to drive away evil spirits. Also, because the flowers bloom in spite of the harshness of winter, and remain intact as they fall from their stems as a noble symbol of maintaining beauty until the last moment, it is held to embody womanly virtue and often appeared in the designs of women’s kimono and accessories.
This type of pattern is made of intertwined leaf, stem and vine designs. The persistent, uninterrupted and ever-extending growth of vine plants is an auspicious symbol of longevity and prosperity. This design has its origins in ancient Egypt, having been transmitted first to China via the Silk Road, and then to Japan.
UME (Japanese Apricot)
The tenacity of these plants to bud in the cold before the arrival of spring, combined with the beauty and elegant aroma of their flowers has made them a favorite motif symbolizing fortune and vitality since days of old.
This lovely flower from China has been well known in Japan since long ago. Called the ‘King of a Hundred Flowers’, its likeness to aristocratic femininity has led it to be used to represent female beauty.
FUJI (Japanese Wisteria)
The flow of the wisteria’s flowers as they bloom downward toward the earth is a well-known metaphor for the psychology of the Japanese, who value modesty and humility over self-assertion. At the same time, the long reach of these flowers is used to represent long life and prosperity for one’s descendants.
The paulownia is a spiritual tree that acts as a charm against negative influence.
Its resistance to humidity, tendency not to warp or break, and strength against fire, while being among the most light-weight of all woods used in Japan, have made it a popular material in high-end furniture, particularly wardrobes. As the plant is quick to mature, there used to be a custom of planting a paulownia sapling in the garden on the birth of a baby girl so that a wardrobe made from the fully-grown tree could be given to her as a gift on her wedding.
SHOBU (Sweet Flag)
An invigorating scent with the power to drive away bad influence has made this a favourite good-luck charm in the past, and even today a tradition persists of using these flowers and stems in a bath on the traditional event of 5 May. Because the shape of the flower is similar to that of a sword, it has also come to be used in talismans for young boys.
The peach is considered a spiritual fruit, representing longevity and the power to drive away misfortune.
TSUYUSHIBA (Dewy Grass)
The semicircular bow-shaped lines turned on their sides and interspersed with small circles are a stylized representation of the morning dew on the grass. The ephemeral quality of dew as it vanishes under the sunlight represents the fleeting nature of beauty and has long been a choice motif in kimono.
INE (Rice Plant)
Rice is the main food staple for the Japanese and was always seen as the blessing of life from the gods. For this reason rope made from the straw left after harvesting the rice came to be used in religious rites.
MOMIJI (Japanese Maple)
TACHIBANA (Inedible Citrus)
The tachibana is a relative of the orange, but believed to have originated in the ideal land called Tokoyo no Kuni. Held to promote longevity and bestow the gift of healthy offspring, it is used in women’s good luck charms as well as in patterns on wedding clothes and formal wear.
ASAGAO (Morning Glory)
Being a typical symbol of summer in Japan, the morning glory is used in motifs on summer yukata, fans, and other seasonal items.
The kusudama is a decorative paper ball for festive occasions. It is made of a colourful, decorated bag stuffed with medicinal grasses and other sweet-smelling things and suspended from a five-coloured thread. Traditionally it was used to cleanse impurities and negative spiritual influences.
FUJIN and RAIJIN
RYU (Chinese Dragon)
This type of dragon was brought to Japan from Chinese mythology. Its cry was said to have the power to call down thunderstorms, and the creature could take the shape of a tornado to propel itself into the heavens, without the aid of the wings normally found on dragons of Western mythology. In Japan it is a very auspicious symbol.
The appearance of the goldfish flitting coolly about in the water is a motif most often appearing in summer items, but its popularity is not limited to the warm seasons. It is also thought to attract financial success.
A very familiar auspicious symbol. The Japanese word kaeru also has the meaning of ‘to return’ or to ‘come back’, and so the image of the frog invokes the ideas of a return on the money one has spent, a safe trip home, and general rejuvenation.
FUJISAN and AKAFUJI
Sacred Mt Fuji is the symbol of Japan and was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013. Mountains are revered by the Japanese people, and Mt Fuji stands out in particular as the highest in the archipelago. As well as an object of worship, it is also a much-loved artistic motif familiar from Edo-period paintings to the present day. Foremost among these may be the image of Akafuji (lit., ‘red Fuji’) as the mountain is bathed in red by the reflected morning sunlight hitting the clouds, which is a very rare event caused by a miraculous combination of natural factors, and anyone lucky enough to witness it is considered to be truly blessed. Depictions of this scene are used to bring happiness and good luck.
In Chinese mythology, the carp was purported to transform into a dragon by swimming upwards through a waterfall. For this reason in Japanese mythology this fish came to symbolize rising in the world and prospering in trade and was used as a lucky motif. The motif of mated male and female carp is used as a charm for family prosperity and tranquility.
Japan has always been prone to earthquakes. In former times, it was thought that earthquakes were caused by giant catfish dwelling deep in the earth. Displaying art in the likeness of a catfish was thus thought to ward off the danger of earth tremors.
The rabbit motif has multiple meanings, such as rapid progress (for its ability to leap), vitality (for its great fertility), and gathering luck through listening (for its long ears), and is a charm to attract success and wealth. Because the rabbit was also said to be an emissary from the moon, it is often depicted in designs along with an image of the moon. In this connection the Japanese have visualized the moon’s pattern as representing a rabbit.
HAMAGURI (Common Orient Clam)
This particular clam was thought to be the only shellfish the two halves of whose shell could be joined perfectly. A popular traditional children’s game consisted of pairing the two halves of the discarded shells of these clams. Pictures were painted on the insides of the shells, and children took turns turning over two at a time to find the matching picture, much like the card game called ‘concentration’. Because the two halves of the shell fit together so perfectly, they were also used as a metaphor of matrimonial bliss, and are still a very auspicious design pattern.
HAGI (Japanese Bushclover)
CHOJU GIGA (Scrolls of Frolicking Animals)
Created more than 800 years ago, this series of humourous illustrated scrolls depicting anthropomorphic animals at play in wilderness settings bears remarkable similarity of presentation to that of modern manga, and is sometimes called Japan’s oldest manga.