A guide to Japanese Kimono and textile symbols and meanings. Find out more about this wonderful hidden language and decode the motifs on our vintage Kimono, Uchikake and Obi cushions.

FLORAL MOTIFS:

Kikko Bellflower Japanese kimono symbol Bellflower (Kikyo) is a white, five petal flower and the symbol of unchanging love, honesty and obedience.”




Sakura cherry blossom Japanese kimono symbol Cherry Blossom (Sakura) with it’s distinctive notched petals, blooms briefly and is fragile. It symbolises new beginnings, renewal (early Spring), beauty and the transience of life.



Kakitsubata Iris Japanese kimono symbol Iris (Kakitsubata) by a running stream evokes the tenth century ‘Tale of Ise’. A far travelling poet arrives at Yatsuhashi, sees irises in full bloom and is struck by such longing for his wife left in far away Kyoto that he writes a verse for her beginning each line with a syllable from the flower’s name ‘ka-ki-tsu-ba-ta’. Signifies protection from evil spirits.


Botan Peony japanese kimono symbol Peony (Botan) is known as the ‘King of the Flowers’ and symbolises good fortune (wealth), high honour (nobility) and ageless beauty.




Matsu Pine Tree Japanese kimono symbol Pine Tree (Matsu) symbolises longevity, steadfastness and wisdom in age. Associated with winter and New Year. Sometimes represented by the pine bark diamond pattern.



Kiri Paulownia Tree Japanese kimono symbol Paulownia Tree (Kiri) is a fast growing tree with foxglove-like purple flowers and the only tree the Phoenix will alight upon. Planted when a baby girl is born, the wood is then used to fashion articles for her dowry. Traditional national symbol, often seen in family crests.


Ume Plum Blossom Japanese kimono symbol Plum Blossom (Ume) is the first flower to bloom in the spring and is known as the ‘Flower of Peace’. A protective charm against evil, it also represents longevity, renewal and perseverance. Identified by rounded petals.



Fuji Wisteria Japanese kimono symbol Wisteria (Fuji) signifies love and is also used in many Japanese family crests (Kamon).




Kiku Chrysanthemum Japanese kimono symbol Chrysanthemum (Kiku)(and Spider chrysanthemum with wild tendril petals) is an auspicious symbol of regal beauty, rejuvenation and longevity. Used as the Imperial Seal of Japan, it also represents autumn and is associated with the Chrysanthemum Festival (Kiku-no-Sekku) held on the 9th day of the 9th month.

"In the second month the peach tree blooms,
But not till the ninth the chrysanthemums;
So each must wait till his own time comes."
-T’au Yuan-Ming (A.D. 372-427)



PATTERNS:

Seigaiha Wave Circles Japanese kimono pattern Seigaiha is a pattern of overlapping circles, symbolic of waves and the ebb and flow of life.



Shippo Circles Japanese kimono pattern Shippo is an infinitely repeating circular design representing the seven jewels or treasures from the Buddhist Sutras.



Hexagon Tortoise shell Japanese kimono pattern Hexagons represent the pattern on a tortoise shell and signify longevity and good fortune.



Diamond pattern Japanese kimono symbols Diamonds or Pine Bark Diamond Pattern –see Pine Tree (Matsu).




OTHER SYMBOLS:

Diamond pattern Japanese kimono symbols Peacock (Kujaku) This bird is associated with love, good will, nurturing, and a kind heart.




Crane Tsuru Japanese kimono symbols Cranes (Tsuru) are believed to live for a thousand years and inhabit the land of the immortals. Symbolise longevity and good fortune. A pair represent a happy marriage.



Taiko Drum Japanese kimono symbols Drum (Taiko) A drum represents joy. Ivy growing over a drum (used to warn of war) signifies peace.




Scroll Japanese kimono symbol meaning Scrolls represent learning, knowledge and a cultured life. One of the Myriad Treasures.




Mountain Yama Japanese kimono symbol meaning Mountains (Yama) depict sacred places between heaven and earth. Birds flying over mountains signify overcoming life’s challenges.




Kawa River Japanese kimono symbol meaning River (Kawa) or winding stream represents continuity and the future.




Source: ‘Symbols of Japan’ by Merrily Baird (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.)