Japanese Embroidery And Kimono Symbol Meanings

Symbols and motives have always been an integral part of Japanese art, both in traditional and modern designs. Symbols can be found subtly integrated in many items found at Japana store, such as cushions or even our logotype which decorates many of our products such as magnetic stands (did you know that it’s an ancient Japanese crest representing 3 geisha fans?).

japanese kitchen cooking knives for home cooks
Our logotype on the right hand side at the bottom shows Japanese family crest (kamon) including symbols of 3 geisha fans.

Japanese embroidery, called nihon shishu, is an embroidery technique that originated in the Kofun Period more than 1600 years ago. This Japanese technique uses intricate patterning, silken threads and symbolic motives worked on fine silk fabrics.

Embroidery was originally used for decorating items used during spiritual and religious ceremonies, but over time it gained popularity through widely accessible artistic initiatives. During early stages, the finest Japanese embroidery was only reserved and available to those in the highest ranks of society. However, years of trade, migration and multiculturalism has opened this cultural heritage to a general audience to enjoy.

Kimono and its textile design meanings

If there is one thing which immediately comes to mind when one thinks of Japanese symbols applied on materials is without a doubt  – a kimono. This popular clothing item is often decorated in Japanese embroidery. Early kimonos were the dominant item of clothing for aristocrats who wore them as a symbol of their status and wealth. To the present day, kimonos are often worn by Geisha or at formal occasions such as a weddings, graduations and tea ceremonies. Because of this, the decorative motives and fabrics that embellish these garments have garnered great significance throughout history.
We’ve prepared you a guide over Japanese Kimono and textile symbols and its meanings. Find out more about this wonderful hidden language and decode the motives on our modern and vintage Kimono and Obi cushions.

Floral Motives

  • Bellflower (Kikyo) is a five petal flower and the symbol of a solid love, honesty and obedience.
  • Cherry Blossom (Sakura) with its distinctive notched petals, sakura blooms briefly and is very fragile. It symbolises rebirth, new beginnings, renewal (early Spring), beauty and the transience of life.
  •  Iris (Kakitsubata) evokes the tenth century ‘Tale of Ise’ by a running stream. 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.
  • Peony (Botan) is known as the ‘King of the Flowers’ and symbolises good fortune (wealth), high honour (nobility) and timeless beauty.
  • Pine Tree (Matsu) symbolises longevity, steadfastness and wisdom in age. Associated with winter and New Year. Sometimes represented by the pine bark diamond pattern.
  • Paulownia Tree (Kiri) is a fast growing tree with foxglove-like purple flowers and the only tree the phoenix will rise upon. Kiri is 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.
  • Wisteria (Fuji) signifies love and is also used in many Japanese family crests (Kamon).
  • Plum Blossom (Ume) is the first flower to bloom in the spring and it can be easily identified by rounded petals. Known as the ‘Flower of Peace’, is a protective charm against evil. Ume represents longevity, renewal and perseverance.
  • 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 ’til the ninth the chrysanthemums;
    So each must wait ’til his own time comes.
    -T’au Yuan-Ming (A.D.372-427)

Patterns

  • Seigaiha is a pattern of overlapping circles, symbolic of waves and the ebb and flow of life.
  • Shippo is an infinitely repeating circular design representing the seven jewels or treasures from the Buddhist Sutras.
  • Hexagon (Kikko) is a hexagonal pattern that mimics the markings on a tortoise’s shell. Much like the symbolism of the tortoise, Kikko signifies longevity and good fortune. Also traditional inspiration for Samurai armour designs.
  • Diamonds, also known as Pine Bark Diamond Pattern –see Pine Tree (Matsu).

Other symbols

  • Kujaku (Peacock) is a symbol of a bird associated with love, good will, nurturing, and a kind heart.
  • 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.
  • River (Kawa) or winding stream represents continuity and the future.
  • Drum (Taiko) A drum representing joy, ivy growing over a drum (used to warn of war) signifies peace.
  • Scrolls represent learning, knowledge and a cultured life. One of the Myriad Treasures.
  • Mountains (Yama) depict sacred places between heaven and earth. Birds flying over mountains signify overcoming life’s challenges.

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