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Decoration & Symbolism

The Japanese are traditionally very appreciative of the beauty of nature and this is clearly reflected in their kimono designs and colours. For Spring, kimonos are often brightly coloured with butterflies and cherry blossom as a traditional design. Designs with water such as waves or fish should be worn in Summer. The Japanese red maple leaf is a popular design for the Autumn and plum blossoms, bamboo and pine trees are classic Winter patterns as they symbolise renewal and longevity. Snow is also a popular pattern for winter.

From November to February, a typical kimono would be white on the outside and red on the inside, known as ‘shades of the plum blossom’. March and April sees lavender kimonos with a blue lining known as ‘shades of wisteria’. A red unlined kimono is typical for Summer months and yellow and orange are typical for Winter and Spring.

There are many other symbols used within the kimono design as well as seasonal ones. The crane represents long life and good fortune as it is said to live for a thousand years. Longer sleeves are commonly seen on younger women to signify that they are not married and are more elaborate than an older women’s more formal kimono. When a woman is married the sleeves will be shortened.

The dyes used to colour kimonos were traditionally taken from plant extracts and so the colour of a kimono is said to embody the characteristics of that plant, including its medicinal properties.  Black symbolises wisdom and was believed to protect one against evil. Purple is made from a plant called gromwell (murasaki) and because the plant has long roots, purple kimonos were a symbol of everlasting love. Red comes from safflower (benibana) and fades easily so although it is a symbol of passion it also symbolises the transience of love. It is more commonly worn by younger women as a sign of youth.

More complex kimono designs involving landscapes are often a reference to literature or poetry, which reflects the wearer’s passion of these subjects. Modern day Japan sees an increase in modern objects as part of the kimono design, such as cars for young boys.

Posted On: 31/03/2011

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