Scratched on kimonos and outfits from Japan, Japanese patterns also called Wagara are designs that are inspired by nature and Japanese traditions. Each of these patterns has a very strong meaning and most of them are as old as time, but continue to cross generations and stand out as the best.
According to their meaning, Japanese patterns are classified into 5 main categories: Japanese geometric patterns, Japanese floral patterns, Japanese animal patterns, Japanese patterns inspired by nature and Japanese patterns inspired by objects.
In this article, we will bring you details about each category of patterns and the meaning of each Japanese pattern.
Japanese patterns inspired by nature
Nature has a great place in Japanese culture. For the Japanese, nature is a source of beauty and immense happiness that must be appreciated through patterns.
For the Japanese, mountains are sacred places that are located between heaven and earth and would be shelters for es kami, deities or spirits worshipped in the Shinto area. If you come across a fabric with a bird motif flying over mountains, know that it symbolizes courage and the ability to overcome life's difficulties.
In French, ''kawa'' means ''river'' which is the symbol of continuity and future. This pattern can be represented in several styles. If it has sinuous lines, it represents a river.
On a fabric or on a decorative object, clouds can be represented in various ways. Whatever style the kumo is represented in, it symbolizes hope, change and closeness to the gods.
In Japan, the snowflake is a pattern that represents positivity because of the snow that falls on earth allows to feed the water giving the assurance of good crops. The yukiwa can be associated with floral and geometric patterns.
In Japanese, the nami which means the sea and the waves in French is a motif that is very often found in the Japanese artistic culture. In Japan, the sea is both revered and feared for its mysteries. Printed on a fabric or a decorative object, the nami is the symbol of the forces of nature.
The Great wave of Kanagawa
The Great Wave of Kanagawa is both a famous Japanese print and the first representation of the 36 views of Mount Fuji. This representation is a painting by the painter Hokusai. This painting shows a large wave that is about to swallow three boats that are struggling on the stormy sea. This representation has become very famous and can be found on any fabric made in Japan.
Still called the golden pavilion, the kinkakuji is the most famous temple dedicated to Buddha in Kyoto. This temple is one of the most beautiful Buddhist temples in Japan. The particularity of this temple is that it is entirely covered with gold leaf and can be found on any fabric pattern made in Japan.
The dokuro is a representation of a skull and skeleton. Contrary to the fear that this motif may inspire, it must be said that in Japan, the dokuro keeps away evil and symbolizes regeneration.
Japanese floral patterns
In Japan, each flower has its own meaning according to its characteristics and appearance. Thus, represented as a pattern on a fabric, a flower has a symbol, a virtue and conveys a message and sometimes emotions.
Karakusa is a Japanese floral pattern that is a representation of a growing plant. Originating from China and introduced in the Japanese tradition during the Nara period between 710 and 794, this pattern was simply used as a decoration on a cloth. But with time, the Japanese made it a symbol of longevity and prosperity while considering it as a lucky pattern.
Sakura in Japanese means "cherry blossom". The sakura is the iconic flower of Japan that symbolizes kindness, gentleness and acceptance of the transient property of beauty when printed on fabric.
In Japan, the cherry blossom marks the beginning of spring. It is so prominent in the daily lives of the Japanese that there is a custom called "hanami" which consists of admiring and appreciating the beauty of cherry blossoms while they are in bloom.
Chrysanthemum or Kiku is a flower that gradually became the emblem of the imperial family in Japan. This flower is found on passports, the imperial seal and on all 50 yen coins. Wherever it is depicted or printed, the Kiku symbolizes rejuvenation and longevity. It blooms in autumn, but it is common to see it on kimonos that are worn in all seasons.
Called Botan in Japanese, the peony flower is considered in Japan as the queen of flowers. Characterized by its strong stem and its ability to stay upright and grow without any help, this flower symbolizes strength of mind, freedom or independence, feminine ideal and goodness. Botan is also considered a protective force when printed on fabric.
In Japan, the ume or plum tree is the very first tree that blooms at the beginning of each year to announce spring. Characterized by its round shape, its white or pink color, and its 5 petals, this flower has a protective power against demons. Still called the "flower of peace", the ume is a feminine flower that symbolizes vigor, regeneration of beauty, health, elegance and favor.
The camellia flower or Tsubaki is a very popular flower in Japan. This flower is distinguished from others by its yellow stamens and its diversity of color. Its meaning depends on its color.
The red color of tsubaki means love within a couple. But for the samurais, the red tsubaki is a symbol of bad luck. The white color of this flower means desire and its yellow color is the symbol of waiting.
Nadeshiko or Kaneshon
To praise the sheer beauty of a Japanese woman, the Japanese use the term "yamato nadeshiko". Thus, the Nadeshiko or carnation is the symbol of maternal love, distinction and fascination in Japan.
Shoubu or Hanashoubu
Shoubu is a flower that is distinguished by its drooping petals and long leaves. It is a flower that has no special meaning, but on a kimono, it displays all its beauty and elegance.
Kiri is the Japanese word for paulownia, a tree of Chinese origin. According to a Japanese custom, when a girl is born, a kiri tree must be planted and when this girl is ready for marriage, the wood of the tree will be used to make objects to be introduced in her dowry.
After Kiku (chrysanthemum) which is the first most important flower in Japan, Kiri is the second most important flower in the daily life of Japanese people. On a fabric or an object, the kiri is represented by 3 leaves on which are arranged small clusters of flowers.
The kikyo or bellflower is a flower that is characterized by its 5 petals with pointed tips. The kikyo is a flower very present in the decorations. It symbolizes obedience, honesty, and permanent love.
Very common on samurai crests, the hanabishi is a Japanese floral pattern which is a representation of the water chestnut flower which is an aquatic plant found in Japanese swamps. This flower has no particular meaning, but it is characterized by its four petals in the form of diamonds arranged around a rounded center.
In Japanese, it is the Ipomoea which is designated by the name Asagao. It opens in the morning and closes in the evening, this flower has a trumpet shape and its representation can be made in a stylized way by characteristic round spots and a white point in the middle. The asagao has no special meaning, but it is very popular and appreciated by Japanese people on a fabric.
In the Japanese tradition, the matsu is a flower that has a special place. Characterized by its ability to remain green throughout the year, the matsu is a symbol of constancy, longevity and wisdom.
The matsu is used to decorate the entrances of houses in the New Year because according to Japanese beliefs, this flower attracts prosperity. Used to mark the boundaries of temples, matsu chases away evil spirits.
Matsuba is not a flower in its own right. It is rather the pine needles that are called matsuba in Japanese. This floral pattern can be combined with other floral patterns. But whether printed alone or in combination, matsuba signifies strength and longevity.
Me take is the Japanese for bamboo, which is a plant that grows easily and quickly and is very resistant. When printed on fabric, the stalk of take symbolizes prosperity, strength and flexibility. And when the take leaves are printed on a fabric, they embody tranquility and calm.
Although it is known as the sacred bamboo in Japan, nanten is a plant that has no connection to bamboo. Rather, nanten is a shrub that has elongated green leaves that are distinguished by their red berries. This small plant is often planted near the entrance of a house for its protective qualities of the home.
Hagi is a Japanese floral pattern made of small leaves that look like coffee beans. But in reality, hagi represents a legume that is very present in Japanese culture, especially in poetry.
Susuki ou Obana
Eulalie in French and Susuki or Obana in Japanese, this flower is the incarnation of elegance and simplicity. Under the effect of the wind, this flower can present a wavy appearance. The susuki is also found on fabrics in an autumn landscape in which it displays all its elegance.
The tachibana is a Japanese citrus fruit that keeps its green leaves throughout the year. Very appreciated by the Japanese, this floral pattern printed on a fabric symbolizes longevity.
Ginkgo is one of the oldest trees and one of the most appreciated by Japanese people. During the autumn, the leaves of this tree have a beautiful golden color. Ginkgo is the symbol of strength, longevity and growth. The leaf of this tree is the emblem of the capital of Japan.
Fuji is a tree which bloom in May. And during its blooming, Fuji or wisteria in French presents beautiful clusters of flowers of purple color. On a kimono, this flower is very elegant despite the fact that it has no particular meaning.
Meaning circle or round in Japanese, the maru mon is a motif that symbolizes infinity or eternity.
The shôchikubai is a floral pattern which is the result of a combination of three plants which are the bamboo, the pine and the plum tree flower. The shôchikubai is a pattern that symbolizes regeneration, longevity and perseverance through the presence of pine. This pattern also symbolizes flexibility and strength with the bamboo and hope, beauty and joy with the plum blossom.
The akikusa is a floral pattern composed of 7 plants that bloom in autumn. This floral composition symbolizes beauty, nostalgia and sensitivity for all that is ephemeral.
Fukiyose is a word composed of "fuki" which means "to die" and "yose" which means last movement. Fukiyose is a floral pattern that has a strong connection with autumn, which is a season in which leaves die in a final movement off the trees. The fukiyose is represented by dead leaves blown away by the wind. The fukiyose pattern can be associated with ginkgo leaves.
Japanese patterns inspired by animals
In the Japanese tradition, several animals have a special place because they have a mystical and legendary side that the Japanese appreciate in various ways. It is the mystery and the legend around these animals that made them represented on patterns that are printed on fabrics.
In the form of realistic origami, the Japanese crane called in tsuru in Japanese is a large bird characterized by its long neck and its long legs. This bird is also characterized by its mostly white feathers and the red color of the top of its head.
Printed on fabric or paper, the tsuru is a symbol of good fortune and longevity. When a pair of tsuru is printed on a cloth, it symbolizes a happy marriage. According to a Japanese legend, to see the realization of one's wishes, one must make 1000 tsuru in origami.
Koi carp is a fish with remarkable courage that is able to swim up rivers and streams to reach its goal. In Japanese, the word "koi" means "love or falling in love". Printed on fabric, this beautifully colored decorative fish symbolizes courage, triumph, perseverance and virility.
The tombo or dragonfly symbolizes the summer with an exceptional strength of character. If you look at the dragonfly, you can see that it always goes forward and does not back down from any obstacle. It is for this particularity that the samurais adopted it as a lucky animal. Printed on a cloth or any other object, the tombo symbolizes courage, strength and victory.
Called plover in French, the chidori is a small migratory wader which means in Japanese "thousand birds" for the fact that it is a bird of good omen which moves only in group. The particularity of these small birds is the courage they show to face natural obstacles. Printed on a cloth, the chidori is a symbol of courage and the ability to overcome life's obstacles.
The kujaku in Japanese is a majestic bird with long feathers and beautiful colors. Printed on kimono, the kajuka symbolizes love, majesty, education, care and good will.
In Japan, the phoenix in French and hou in Japanese is a legendary bird that came from China. The hou is a bird of good omen that appears when all is well and the world is peaceful and joyful. On a fabric, this bird is often represented by its splendid plumage. The hou is a symbol of peace and happiness and is often printed on kimonos.
The usagi is an animal motif which is a representation of small white rabbits that signify intelligence and dedication. In Japan, the rabbit is an animal that has a strong presence in the folklore. Several shrines are even dedicated to this animal with great intelligence.
The tortoise is the symbol of longevity thanks to its particularly long life span. It is also an animal that embodies wisdom for its slowness, luck and protection thanks to its shell that protects it from any aggressor. It is the turtle which is called Kame in Japanese.
The butterfly or cho in Japanese is one of the most beautiful patterns on a fabric or a decorative object. The butterfly symbolizes evolution for the fact that to become a butterfly, the caterpillar goes through a fascinating transformation. A pair of butterflies printed on a fabric or a decorative object symbolizes happiness in a marriage and according to a Japanese popular belief, the dead begin their journey in the afterlife in the form of a butterfly.
Tatsu ou Ryu
In Japanese tradition, the dragon or tatsu is a deity of the sea and is associated with the sky and the cloud. The dragon is a mystical, yet benevolent creature that symbolizes power and strength. On a cloth and in Japan, the dragon is represented with its three sharp claws.
The fukurou or owl is a bird that embodies protection and luck. With the western influence, this bird has also become in Japan a symbol of knowledge and wisdom.
The raccoon dog or tanuki in Japanese is an animal that looks like a cross between a raccoon and a badger. Very present in the Japanese folklore, the taniki is considered as a yokai which can change its appearance from one moment to another. In Japanese tradition, the yokai is the symbol of benevolence, success and prosperity.
The oshidori is the mandarin duck which is a bird characterized by its beautiful plumage. The representation of the oshidori is often done in couple like lovebirds. This animal motif is a symbol of constant evolution and love in a couple.
Japanese patterns inspired by objects
There are also Japanese patterns that were inspired by objects used in everyday life by the Japanese.
In Japan, the fan symbolizes prosperity. This belief is reinforced by the way the fan is opened, which resembles the blooming of a flower.
The noshi is a representation of several colored ribbons tied together. In the Japanese tradition, ribbons symbolize happiness and longevity.
Temari are balls that are used for decoration. They are also toys that are loved by children and are made from fabric scraps. Given on New Year's Day, temari are good luck charms that everyone wants to have.
Tsuzumi or Taiko
The Japanese drum symbolizes joy as it is always used for festive celebrations.
The kasa or umbrellas are traditional objects that still occupy an important place in the daily life of the Japanese.
Hanaguruma is a pattern represented by small carts with flowers. This pattern is reminiscent of the carriage used by the aristocracy who lived around the imperial palace in Kyoto to carry flowers.
The genjiguruma is the wheel of the genji which represents the wheel of the imperial car and symbolizes renewal. The genjiguruma is very often decorated with flowers. Its name comes from an important work of Japanese literature.
Japanese designs are motifs that have traveled through time and continue to be widely used. Whatever inspired a Japanese pattern, it always has a positive meaning.
Japanese patterns inspired by geometric figures
Among the five categories of Japanese patterns, Japanese geometric patterns are considered the most classic ones that you can find on any fabric of Japanese origin.
Japanese geometric patterns are the most complex and among them, some date back to the 8th century and others a little earlier. Japanese geometric patterns are still in fashion and are very present on modern kimonos made in Japan.
Seigaiha is an old Japanese pattern that can be printed on Japanese fabrics of great value because of its originality and especially because it easily integrates all colors.
This pattern is made of several coaxial hoops that are arranged on top of each other. Seigaiha means "the waves of the blue sea, tranquility, calm sea and good fortune". Considering its meaning, Seigaiha was once used to represent the seas and oceans on ancient maps.
Asanoha is also an old Japanese pattern, but in the shape of a star. The particularity of the star of this Japanese geometric pattern is that it has 6 branches which represent the hemp leaf instead of 5 for a normal star.
Like hemp, this pattern signifies strength, good growth and vigor. Asanoha is a Japanese geometric pattern that is also very often printed on cotton fabrics for small children and especially for babies in the hope that they will have good growth, resistance and vigor while developing good qualities.
Yagasuri or Yabane
Whether called Yagasuri or Yabane, this Japanese geometric pattern is represented by bird feathers securely attached to the end of arrows used for archery. In the Japanese tradition, decorative objects in the shape of bird feathers attached to the end of an arrow used for archery symbolize happiness and protection of the home against all evil.
Yabane or Yagasuri is a pattern that brings happiness and luck. This pattern is common on athletes' kimonos during competitions, and on cloths given to a young bride to notify her that she does not have to return to her parents' house because the arrow shot does not come back.
Initially, this Japanese geometric pattern was printed exclusively on the fabrics of a shogun family in Japan. But with time, the Same Komon which is a Japanese geometric pattern that reminds the shark skin with its dotted lines has become popular.
It can be found in the background of another more complex Japanese pattern. As for the meaning of the Same Komon, it does not have a specific meaning. So everyone is free to interpret this dotted pattern as he or she wants.
Tatewaku or Tachiwaki
Still called the Tachiwaki, the Tatewaku is a Japanese geometric pattern made of vertical wavy lines. These wavy lines represent a vapor which rises slowly and surely towards the sky. The particularity of this pattern is that its realization was very complex in the time.
And this is the reason why it was only printed on fabrics worn by high ranking people. In terms of meaning, Tatewaku or Tachiwaki means the elevation of the spirit and the ability to overcome obstacles. Tatewaku is often combined with another Japanese geometric pattern called Seigaiha.
Kikkô or Kikkoumon
Inspired by the hexagonal shape of the turtle's scales, the Kikko or Kikkomon is a Japanese geometric pattern symbolizing longevity. For the record, in the past, samurais wore armor made of several hexagonal facets that are sewn together.
These armors look like this Japanese geometric pattern that can also be printed on any fabric. And on a fabric, it is also possible to see another pattern printed in the middle of the hexagon.
Printed on a fabric, this Japanese geometric pattern is made of several circles placed one on top of the other to form either stars or petals. In Japan, Shippo is the symbol of the 7 treasures of Buddhism which are pearl, crystal, silver, gold, coral, agate and lapis lazauli. However, it should be noted that none of the 7 treasures are represented on this design. Shippo also means harmony and good relations and is very often found on women's kimonos.
Kanoko is a Japanese geometric pattern reminiscent of the spots on the back of a fawn. It is a dyeing technique that consists of tying the fabric in a certain way before soaking it. It is a complex and labor intensive technique. Kanoko has no particular meaning. However, wealthy people can order kimonos that are completely covered with this pattern.
Inspired by the swastika symbol called manji in Japan, the Japanese geometric Sayagata pattern is a pattern that means peace and strength. This pattern is also related to Buddhism and signifies intelligence and good fortune.
Hishi is a Japanese pattern consisting of diamond shapes drawn by several parallel intersecting lines. It is available in many variations. Particularly, this pattern does not have a meaning. But it is popular for its beauty and elegance on fabrics.
Igeta is a Japanese geometric pattern that has no particular explanation. But in its configuration, this pattern is represented on a cloth by small grids or sharps. The sharps sound like a well in the middle of four beams that form a cross.
Uroko is a pattern made of a series of triangles of different colors or several rhombuses divided into two triangles of different colors. In Japanese, the word Uroko means scale. And depending on how you look at it, this ancient Japanese geometric pattern can mean dragon, fish or snake scales. It is a protective and lucky pattern.
Kagome is a Japanese geometric mesh pattern made by weaving a bamboo basket. The Kagome symbolizes protection against demons and bad luck.
In Japanese, ichimatsu means "check pattern" and is the representation of an alternation of several small squares characterized by a variation in color. The name of this pattern comes from the name of a Japanese theater actor called Kabuki Sanogawa Ichimatsu who used to wear costumes that include this pattern.
Mame Shibori is a polka dot pattern simply because in Japanese, mame means bean or pea and robust. Printed on fabric, Mame Shibori is a symbol of strength, longevity and good health.