Motifs are an essential part of kimono design.  They can be flowers, plants, trees, animals, man-made objects, geometric designs, or stylized representations of nature.  They can be auspicious or not auspicious.  They can be tied to a certain season, or be appropriate for all seasons.  It’s quite fascinating actually to discover different motifs and what season they are connected too.  Sometimes, these connections don’t make a lot of sense until you look into the history of the motif.  And sometimes, the motifs require a lot of imagination to see what the artist is seeing in his design.

Whenever I write about a motif, I try to be as accurate as I possibly can.  It’s very easy to get incorrect information on the internet, so whenever I can, I will try to find multiple sources stating the same thing, or check with my kitsuke instructors (who have corrected me from time to time!)  As well as internet resources, I have a library of seasonal and kimono motif books that I check on a regular basis.  Some of them are starting to get broken spines from the number of times I’ve opened them up since I started this blog!  They are usually my first stop when I start writing about a new motif, and I usually use all of them.  If there are any sources that I have used outside of these books, I will mention it in each individual motif post.



Dalby, Liza. Kimono: Fashioning Culture. London: Vintage, 1993. (ISBN: 9780099428992).

Nitanai, Keiko. 着物の文様とその見方: 文様の格付け、意味、時代背景、由来がわかる (Kimono Design: An Introduction to its Patterns and Background). Seibundo Shinkosha, 2013. (ISBN: 9784416713808)

Nitanai, Keiko. 夏着物の文様とその見方: 大正・昭和の涼をよぶ着物の素材、織り組織、文様の意味がわかる (Kimono Design: Taste of Japanese summer.). Seibundo Shinkosha, 2015. (ISBN: 9784416715345)

Shirane, Haruo. Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. (ISBN: 9780231152815) (For a review of this book, check here.)

改訂版 京千代紙と和の文様セレクション -日本の伝統が育んだ美の素材集- (The Collection of Japanese Patterns). Impress Japan, 2013. (ISBN: 9784844334033)

日本の文様 (Traditional Japanese Patterns and Motifs).  Tokyo: Pie Books, 2013.  (ISBN: 9781756244246) (This book is great for identifying some of the more obscure motifs!)


All of these books are either entirely in English, or they are bilingual.  Word of warning though, Keiko Nitanai does not translate everything from Japanese to English, so some people may find it lacking.


2 thoughts on “Motifs

  1. Pingback: New Motifs and an Update! | Ready, Set, Kimono!

  2. I have a tsukesage but I have no idea what the plants/motifs are on the kimono. It looks like there are plants sprouting out of a lake. One plant is just blue/green leaves. The other plant is long stems with white tufts on them. Does this sound like a familiar motif to you? I have pictures if you are interested. Thank you so much for your time and knowledge


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