While a kimono can be made with any beautiful art, certain recurring Kimono Patterns and images have meaning rooted in Japanese tradition. Many modern patterns are influenced by designs found in western society.
Flowers, varying by the season, are perhaps the most common kimono motif, and the symbolism of flowers in Japan could fill a book. A few common flowers and plants:
- Chrysanthemum: a symbol of long life and rejuvenation, it became the Japanese nation’s official emblem and the imperial family.
- Karakusa: a pattern of flowers and their stems curling around the fabric, it symbolizes eternity and family legacy.
- Sakura: also called the cherry blossom, these flowers bloom and die in about two weeks out of the year. They are a common symbol of spring, but they also represent transient, short-lived beauty.
- Tsubaki: also called camellia or the tea flower. Like the rose, they come in different colors that symbolize different things: red for love and white for unrequited desire, among others.
More Flower Patterns
- Matsuba: bunches of pine needles that seem to be falling across the fabric; they are emblematic of steadfastness, perseverance, and the wisdom of old age, just like the enduring pine.
- Paulownia: called the “princess tree,” they represent divine guidance and femininity.
- Bamboo: a quick-growing Japanese grass cultivated around the world, symbolizing longevity.
- Iris: protects from malevolent spirits
- Bellflower: shows genuine love.
- Peony: embodies wealth, fortune, and honor.
These Kimono Patterns are based on animals:
- Crane: a revered creature, said to live for centuries and thrive in the land of gods and immortal. It is a sign of good luck and was once used only for nobles’ clothes.
- Peacocks: portray love and kindness
- Plover: a migratory bird representing strength and persistence because they migrate over the water and face strong winds and waves.
- Tortoise: one of the most long-lived animals on Earth, it, of course, represents longevity and a good life. Japanese myth holds it to live for 10,000 years.
- Koi: a kind of carp. A traditional legend holds that a koi that can swim upriver enough to reach the dragon’s lair at its origin will become a dragon itself. As a result, koi embody success in life when printed on a kimono.
A wide variety of geometric designs can also be found on Kimonos. These include:
- Shippou: a sacred symbol of the seven treasures of Buddhist lore, which are gold, silver, lapis lazuli, agate, seashell, amber, and coral.
- Seigaiha: overlapping circles representing ripples in water, evoking the flow of life and fortune across time.
- Hexagons: taken from the shape of plates on a tortoiseshell, representing strength and long life.
- Waves: a symbol of the sea’s god and strength, commonly used on war banners to associate the army with an unstoppable tide.
- Shima: chain-like patterns showing the strong bonds in a community.
- Koushi: a lattice pattern with thick lines to represent power and thin lines to represent elegance.
Other patterns can also be found on Kimonos. These commonly include:
- Kumo: clouds or rippling air patterns, showing an upward motion toward the skies and mountains, where the gods reside and watch over Japan.
- Yagasuri: arrow shapes representing steadfastness and determination — after all, an arrow flies straight to its target with no deviation.
Sayagata: an interlocking set of manji from Buddhist lore that represents life and strength.
- Yukiwa: the Japanese idea of what a snowflake looks like, quite different from the one we usually use in the West.
- Igeta: a square shape representing a well, which symbolizes life and luck.
- Uroko: interlocking triangles meant to resemble the scales of a dragon or snake. They ward off evil with the essence of the guardian dragon.