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Wagara: Traditional Japanese Patterns

Posted by Akira.Hirose on
Wagara: Traditional Japanese Patterns

Wagara, or traditional Japanese patterns, often adorn kimonos and tenugui hand towels. Learning about the names and origins of these patterns will make us understand that they have long been used for summoning good fortune and for representing wishes for happiness.


Kikko (tortoise shell or hexagonal pattern)


Popular during the Heian period (794 – 1185) and the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), kikko is a pattern of hexagons joined together vertically and horizontally. It was first introduced into Japan via China. In the olden days, this pattern was used by aristocrats and in mysterious items. The hexagons represent tortoiseshells, as the long-living tortoise has traditionally been a symbol of longevity and good fortune. The image shows two-layered hexagons, thus this design is called “tortoiseshell with child.”


Oimatsu Matsumon (old pine tree)

Oimatsu Matsumon

In Japan, it has long been believed that the gods dwell in pine trees because these trees have long life spans, and that they are evergreens whose leaves do not fall throughout the four seasons. During the new year, pine decorations are displayed to celebrate the gods (usually to pray for a good harvest). This pine tree pattern is the archetypal design for good fortune and longevity. Aside from old ones, pine trees are shown in its various forms, including young pine trees, pine needles, pine groves, and pine forests.


Takarazukushi (a collection of treasures)


This is a pattern depicting a collection of lucky treasures. Since the Muromachi period (1333 – 1573), it has taken hold as a kishomon or an auspicious design. It includes items such as a “magic wishing mallet” that can tap out anything wished for, a “cloak of invisibility,” and a “wish-fulfilling jewel,” but they vary depending on the region. Such items symbolize wishes for good fortune, wealth, and prosperity. The word “zukushi” is used when different items/motifs but of the same genre are gathered. There is also “kaizukushi” which is a design that depicts a collection of different kinds of shells.


Yagasuri Moyo (arrow feather pattern)

Yagasuri Moyo (arrow feather pattern)

This pattern depicts arrow feathers, with “ya” meaning “arrow” and “kasuri” (or “gasuri”) referring to a fabric technique wherein the outline of a pattern appears blurred or grazed. In time, arrow feather patterns on other objects aside from fabrics came to be called “yagasuri” as well. This pattern is used as a lucky charm because it connotes “hitting the target” or “going straight ahead.” During the Edo period (1603 – 1867), kimono with an arrow feather pattern was part of a bride’s trousseau because an arrow that has been shot does not come back, thus connoting a bride not returning to her family after getting married.


Sakura (Cherry Blossom Pattern)

Sakura, Cherry Blossom Pattern

This pattern connotes “the beginning of things” because cherry blossoms mark spring’s arrival after a cold winter. Also, cherry blossom-viewing parties were once events for praying for a huge grain harvest, thus the flower represents “abundance.” Many cherry blossoms also bloom all at once, thus the pattern connotes “prosperity.” Variations of the pattern include “small cherry blossoms” with scattered petals, “weeping cherry” with drooping branches and blossoms, and “flower rafts” on flowing water.


Hishigata (Japanese Water Chestnut Pattern)

Hishi Japanese Water Chestnut Pattern

This pattern traces its roots back to ancient times, as it was found on earthenware from the Jomon period (14,000 BCE – 300 BCE). The name of the pattern comes from its resemblance to the leaves and fruits of the Japanese water chestnut plant. The plant is very fertile, and the high nutritional value of its fruit connotes good health.

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