Japanese Embroidery And Kimono Symbol Meanings

Symbols and motives have always been an integral part of Japanese aesthetics, both in traditional and modern designs. These symbols can be found integrated in many of the items found at our store through graphics, embroiled in textiles and applied arts. (Even our logotype is an ancient Japanese symbol representing 3 geisha fans!). Japanese embroidery, known natively as nihon shishu, is an embroidery technique that originated in the Kofun Period. The technique, which has over 1600 years of history, uses intricate patterning, silken threads and symbolic motives worked on fine silk fabrics.

Nihon shishu was originally used for decorating items used during religious and spiritual ceremonies, but over time came to serve a more widely accessible artistic purpose. During early stages, the finest Japanese embroidery was only 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.

Kimono and its textile design meanings

The most associated clothing item with the Japanese culture is without a doubt  – kimono. Many kimonos are 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. In the present day, kimonos are often worn by Geisha or at formal occasions such as a weddings 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

kikyo- japanese symbols meaningsBellflower (Kikyo) is a five petal flower and the symbol of unchanging love, honesty and obedience.

sakura - japanese symbols meanings

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.

Paulownia Tree Kiri 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.

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

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.

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 ’til the ninth the chrysanthemums; So each must wait ’til his own time comes. -T’au Yuan-Ming (A.D.372-427)


seigaiha - japanese symbols meanings Seigaiha is a pattern of overlapping circles, symbolic of waves and the ebb and flow of life.

shippo - japanese symbols meaningsShippo is an infinitely repeating circular design representing the seven jewels or treasures from the Buddhist Sutras. 

kikko - japanese symbols and textile motives

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.

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

Other symbols

Peacock kujaku Japanese kimono symbolsKujaku (Peacock)is a symbol of a bird associated with love, good will, nurturing, and a kind heart.

Crane tsuru Japanese kimono symbolsCranes (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.

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