Kanoko (鹿の子) Fawn Spots

Name: Kanoko (鹿の子) Fawn Spots

Seasonal Association: None

When to Wear It: All Year

Auspicious: No

History: This motif is especially popular as a shibori motif, although it is possible for it to appear in other media as well. Its name comes from the resemblance to the spots on the back of a baby deer.

Identification: Kanoko can be divided into two broad categories, kanoko that is created using the technique of shibori dyeing, and kanoko that is created using other media.

 

Shibori Kanoko

There are six different types of shibori kanoko, each with its own name, binding technique, and features.  Not every technique features a photo, but I will update as I find examples.

1) Hon Hitta Kanoko (dots within squares)

This pattern consists of squares with sharp edges, with the smallest possible dot spot of color in the middle. The dots are bound on the bias of the cloth, and when they are completed, they will be viewed on the diagonal in a grid pattern. A kimono fully patterned with hon hitta kanoko (called sou hitta) is a highly prized garment. Hon hitta kanoko is the most difficult type of kanoko shibori to create.

chuu-hitta kanoko

chuu-hitta kanoko

2) Chuu Hitta Kanoko (Medium dots within squares)

This pattern resembles hon hitta kanoko, except for a few key differences. The edges of the squares are not as sharp or crisp as in hon hitta kanoko, and the circles in the middle are larger and more irregular than in hon hitta kanoko.

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yokobiki kanoko

 

 

 

3) Yokobiki Kanoko (square ring dots)

This pattern consists of square or rectangular rings that are irregular in size and form.

 

4) Tatebiki Kanoko (linked dots)

Like its name suggests, this pattern consists of small dots, spaced close together and appear like beads on a string. These dots are usually used to create linear designs.

5) Te-hitome Kanoko (half dots)

This pattern consists of oval or almond shaped resisted (no dye) areas and a spot of dye in the middle that only takes up half the space available.

6) Tsukidashi kanoko (spaced dots)

The pattern is a subtle and more subdued than hon hitta kanoko and is more appropriate for older women. It is also a common pattern to find on shibori obiage.

 

Kanoko Created With Other Media

The following are examples of the kanoko motif that are not created using shibori.

This kanoko mimics the look of hon-hitta shibori kanoko.

This kanoko mimics the look of hon-hitta shibori kanoko.  It has been woven into the pattern of this obi.

These kanako dots have been dyed.

These kanako dots have been dyed.

 

 

Ebi (海老) lobster/shrimp

Name: Ebi (海老) lobster/shrimp

Seasonal Association Winter

When To Wear It: all year

Auspicious: yes

History: Ebi can play two different roles as a motif, that of a seasonal motif, and that of an auspicious motif.

Seasonal: Ebi is a staple ingredient in Osechi, the traditional New Year’s selection of food.

Auspicious: The hunched back and whiskers of the ebi are features that are also attributed to an old man and because of this, ebi is considered a symbol of long life. It is often nicknamed the old man of the sea.

Ebi can also be referred to as Ise Ebi (伊勢海老) which is a particular species of spiny lobster found in Mie prefecture.

Identification: Ebi will resemble a lobster or a shrimp with a curved back, long whiskers on its face, and six legs.

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Matsu (松) Pine

002 (3) 009 (6)Name:  Matsu (松) Pine

Seasonal Association: Winter

When To Wear It: all year

Auspicious: yes

 

A Note on Seasonality: Some sources of classical poetry place matsu in the category of a winter motif.  I tend to agree with this assessment as pine has a very strong association in my mind with O-shogatsu (New Years) as well as it’s inclusion in the trio of shochikubai (the three friends of winter).  Others do not agree with this.  However one fact that is indisputable is that matsu is an auspicious motif and therefore can be worn all year round.

History

There are two main kinds of pine trees that grow in japan. Kuromatsu ( 黒松 black pine) grows in coastal areas and akamatsu ( 赤松 red pine) grows on mountains and in fields.

Their long life (sometimes hundreds of years) hardiness, and the fact that they are green all year round make them an auspicious symbol of longevity.

Pine is used in a wide variety of items in Japan. Lumber, windbreaks, fuel, torches, and bonsai all use pine wood. The soot from burning pinewood is used to create ink for calligraphy. In addition, matsutake mushrooms can only be found growing around the base of akamatsu.

Spiritually, pine is heavily linked with the gods of the Japanese pantheon. Noh plays usually feature at least one supernatural character, and the background for all noh stages is a painting of a single pine tree.

During O-shogatsu (お正月Japanese New Year) homes are decorated with a pair of kadomatsu (門松gate pines). These decorations are said to provide homes for the gods during their visit to Earth.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

For more information on pine, Begin Japanology has created an excellent video on the subject.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai
松竹梅

The kanji that make up shochikubai include matsu (pine) take (bamboo) and ume (plum blossom). The name comes from the Chinese reading of the characters instead of the Japanese reading (sho=pine, chiku=bamboo, and bai=plum blossom). This combination is known as the “Three Friends of Winter.” It’s a very auspicious combination, and although all the motifs are associated with winter, it can be used year round. It is especially popular during the Japanese New Year. Bamboo and pine are always included in decorations called kadomatsu (門松) although it’s still a little early in January for plum blossoms to be blooming.

Identification

Here are the two most common ways of depicting matsu.

Kasamatsu (笠松) Hat of Pine

In this motif, the pine foliage forms a hat while the branches form the ties of the hat, Although personally, I think it looks more like a mushroom than a hat.

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Matsuba chirashi (松葉散らし) Scattered Pine Needles

This motif resembles scattered pine needles on the ground. The needles are always depicted in pairs that are attached at the base of the needles.

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Take (竹) Bamboo

052Name: Take (竹) Bamboo

Seasonal Association: Trans-seasonal

When To Wear It: All year

Auspicious: yes

A Note on Seasonality: Different parts of bamboo are associated with different seasons in Japan.  For example, the straight stalks of bamboo have a close connection with winter due to their inclusion in O-shogatsu (New Years) decorations and shochikubai (The Three Friends of Winter).  However, bamboo also plays an important part in the celebration of Tanabata, which takes place in the summer.

History

Take is one of the most important plants in Japan.

It has taken on many meanings and associations over its long history in Japan. According to Haruo Shirane in his book Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, bamboo has come to represent long life, prosperity, immortality, fidelity, and chastity. It is also a member of shochikubai (see below) which is an extremely auspicious combination of bamboo, pine, and plum blossom.

Its importance is shown very well in this video from Begin Japanology.

Bamboo is an integral part of Japanese culture and is used in thousands of products. Here’s a short list illustrating the importance of bamboo in Japan.

Practical applications: baskets, building construction, scaffolding, fencing, inuyarai (犬矢来traditional Kyoto fencing) implements for tea ceremony, traditional umbrellas, toys, cups, ikenbana baskets, fans, flutes, and brooms are examples.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

Kadomatsu (gate pine) are traditional New Year decorations. They always feature bamboo and pine.

Decorative applications: figurines, kadomatsu (門松decorations for the Japanese New Year, O-shogatsu) shishi-odoshi (ししおどし traditional stalks of bamboo that fill up with water, then pour it out while making a noise. They were traditionally used to scare off animals, but are now used only decoratively in gardens.)

Annual Celebrations:

Tanabata ( 七夕): On July 7th, people will tie handmade paper ornaments to a branch of bamboo to celebrate the legend of two lovers that can only cross the milky way and meet one day a year. For more information on Tanabata check here.  http://www.jref.com/culture-society/tanabata/

O-shogatsu(お正月): During O-shogatsu, the Japanese New Year, homes and businesses are decorated with kadomatsu. Pairs of kadomatsu (門松) are placed on either side of the door to welcome and be a temporary home to the visiting gods. Kadomatsu are decorated differently depending on region, but all of them have three pieces of upright bamboo as the centerpiece.

bamboo figurines

bamboo figurines

Legends:

The oldest Japanese story to be found so far is the story of the bamboo cutter, also called Kaguya Hime or Taketori Monogatari. In this story, a bamboo cutter finds a stalk of bamboo that is glowing. When he cuts it open, he discovers a baby girl. When this baby girl grows up, she eventually returns to her home on the moon. It’s a very popular story that all Japanese children know.

Food: Takenoko (竹の子bamboo shoots) are served fresh from March to May and preserved year round (especially in ramen). In addition, the sheaths around the base of mature bamboo can be used as a food wrapper.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai on a hanhaba obi.

Shochikubai
松竹梅

The kanji that make up shochikubai include matsu (pine) take (bamboo) and ume (plum blossom). The name comes from the Chinese reading of the characters instead of the Japanese reading (sho=pine, chiku=bamboo, and bai=plum blossom). This combination is known as the “Three Friends of Winter.” It’s a very auspicious combination, and although all the motifs are associated with winter, it can be used year round. It is especially popular during the Japanese New Year. Bamboo and pine are always included in decorations called kadomatsu (門松) although it’s still a little early in January for plum blossoms to be blooming.

 

Identification

Bamboo is depicted on kimono in two distinct ways.

Take (竹) bamboo
A long, straight stalk of bamboo with visible joints (fushi) at regular intervals.  Take can be depicted with or without leaves.

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Bamboo in a utilitarian setting.

Bamboo in a utilitarian setting.

Sasanoha (笹の葉) bamboo leaves
A clump of three, four, or five thin pointed leaves. The points of the leaves are always oriented downwards. It is very common for sasanoha to appear without take.

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Kiku (菊) Chrysanthemum

Name: kiku (菊) Chrysanthemum

Seasonal Association: Autumn

When To Wear It: All Year

Auspicious: Yes

History:

Kiku was introduced from China during the Nara period. They typically bloom in late summer and will last until the first snowfall. Because of their hardiness and medicinal properties, kiku are often associated with longevity. Perhaps because of this, the kiku was adopted by the Japanese imperial family as its crest and the official flower of Japan. The Japanese emperor is said to sit on the chrysanthemum throne and it is the longest uninterrupted line of monarchs in the world making the long-lived kiku a very appropriate symbol.

The crest of the imperial family shows a kiku with 16 petals in the front and 16 almost completely hidden petals in the back. Only the emperor can use the 16 petaled kiku, so kiku found on kimono, official documents, Japanese passports, and the 50 yen coin will all have a different number of petals.

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forgive my poor photography skills.

Traditionally, kiku are celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth month (according to the old Japanese calendar) during the Choyo Festival, but this tradition has fallen out of favor in modern times. The Choyo Festival was traditionally the signal to change from unlined hitoe kimono to lined awase kimono.

Identification:  There are four distinct types of kiku found on kimono.

1: Kiku 菊(Chrysanthemum)

The standard kiku has tightly packed petals that are either round or elongated, but are always smooth around the edge. Kiku with round petals tend to have more than one layer. Kiku with elongated petals tend to have only one layer of petals.

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Kiku with elongated petals.  The first example has a double layer of  petals while the second example only has a single layer.

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Kiku with more rounded petals and many layers.

2: Nejigiku 捻じ菊(Twisted chrysanthemum)

This flower resembles a regular kiku with elongated petals, but the petals are twisted around the center.

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please note, the flower with five petals is not a kiku but an ume (plum blossom). 

3: Koringiku/manjugiku* 万寿菊 (Steamed bun chrysanthemum)

This is a very stylistic depiction. It was first created by the artist Korin Ogata, and took its name from him, but it also resembles a manju (steamed bun) and was given this colloquial name as well. This kiku is very round and has no defined petals.

*manjugiku also means marigold in Japanese.

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4: Ragiku 乱菊 (Spider chrysanthemum)

This kiku has clusters of long, narrow petals with a distinctive upwards curl at the end of the petal.

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