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.


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.


Sayagata (紗綾形) Linked Buddhist Swastikas

Name: Sayagata (紗綾形) Linked Buddhist Swastikas

Seasonal Association: None

When To Wear It: All Year

Auspicious: yes


The sayagata design is derived from a traditional Buddhist swastika, which is known as a manji (卍 or 万字) in Japanese. The first kanji (卍) depicts a Buddhist manji which has the tines facing in a counterclockwise direction. This is the opposite of the Nazi symbol in which the tines face clockwise.   While manji will always face counterclockwise, because sayagata is made up of interlinking manji, you will see manji facing both directions in this design.  This symbol has been used since the neolithic times and across many cultures. In modern day Japan, it is used on maps as a symbol for a Buddhist temple. The second kanji (万字) means “ten thousand words.”


The sayagata is usually used as a background design that is woven into the cloth for solid colored kimono or accessories.  It is especially popular for iromuji kimono or items that use rinzu silk (which also makes it very hard to photograph!). The design consists of interlinking manji, and the manji are always depicted on the diagonal.



Same Komon (鮫小紋) Shark Skin

Name: Same Komon (鮫小紋) Shark Skin

Seasonal Association: None

When To Wear It: All Year

Auspicious: No

History: This pattern is an especially popular motif for edo komon kimono. It was first developed in the Muromachi period and was favored by samurai. Later, it was adopted by townspeople during the Edo period. Same (鮫)translates as shark and komon (小紋) translates as fine pattern.


This pattern consists of a series of small white dots on a colored background. The dots are arranged in overlapping “hills.”

Same komon motif on an edo komon kimono. From a distance, the kimono looks like a solid color.

Same komon motif on an edo komon kimono. From a distance, the kimono looks like a solid color.

Asa No Ha (麻の葉) Hemp Leaf Pattern

Name: Asa No Ha (麻の葉) Hemp Leaf Pattern

Seasonal Association: None

When To Wear It: All Year

Auspicious: Yes

History: There are records of hemp being used in Japan as early as the Jomon era (10,00-300 BC). Some of the most popular uses of hemp today is in the construction of ropes for shrines, temples, and sumo rings. Hemp is also a popular fabric for summer kimono and juban. The motif asa no ha is often used as a background design on kimono made of a wide variety of fabrics (not just hemp). It is often a popular motif on garments for babies to signify the parent’s hopes that their child will grow as strong as a rope made from hemp.


Some people see triangles when looking at asa no ha, and others see a six pointed star. Both of these are correct. Asa no ha is also sometimes called mutsuboshi or six pointed star.

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Ayame/Shoubu (菖蒲) Iris


This is only one example of the multiple species of ayame that grow in Japan.

This is only one example of the multiple species of ayame that grow in Japan.

Ayame (菖蒲) Siberian Iris/Sweet Grass (Iris sanguinea)
Shoubu/Hanshoubu (菖蒲 / 花菖蒲) Japanese Iris (Iris ensata)
Kakitsubata (杜若) Rabbit Ear Iris (Iris laevigata)

Seasonal Association: Summer

The three types of iris usually referred to as Japanese iris bloom from early May to late June. This caused some ambiguity to Heian era poets. Should the iris be considered a spring flower or a summer flower? According to Haruo Shirane in Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons, different sources originally placed it in different seasons. Shirane states that colour combinations for the juni hitoe that were indicative of the iris placed the kakitsubata in summer, however waka poets used the flower as a spring motif. A defining moment came when the influential editors of anthology Horikawa hyakushu decided to place kakistubata in spring, and hanashoubu and ayame in the summer due to their prominence in the Tango festival (held on the fifth day of the fifth month). This distinction had a lasting effect on poetry anthologies with seasonal themes, however the poets themselves continued to treat the iris as a summer motif, and by the Muromachi period, its identity had firmly returned to summer (pg 52-53).

In addition to this, the classic Japanese calendar, puts the blooming of the iris firmly into the summer months. Before the Meiji Era, Japan used a different calendar (a luni-solar calendar). According to the modern solar calendar, the traditional four seasons are as follows.

Spring: February 4-May 4 (first, second, and third months)
Summer: May 5-August 6 (fourth, fifth, and sixth months)
Autumn: August 7-November 6 (seventh, eighth, and ninth months)
Winter: November 7-February 4 (tenth, eleventh, and twelfth months)

Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons – Haruo Shirane

This traditional seasonality, which rules all seasonal kimono motifs, would place the blooming of the iris firmly in the summer season.

A final note on seasonality, I have many pieces in my collection (see below) that are awase (lined) and not designed for summer. So what does this mean? For me, it means don’t rely on the iris to tell you what season a certain piece should be worn in. Also consider if the piece is awase (lined) or hitoe (unlined) or ro (gauze) and any other motifs present on the piece. The combination of all these elements will tell you when to wear your kimono or obi.

When To Wear It: April – June

Auspicious: no


Traditionally, the iris is linked to Boy’s Day (now Children’s Day, celebrated on May 5th) because the leaves resemble swords and the name shoubu is a homonym for militarism. Iris can often be found on boy’s kimono. Kakitsubata was made famous by its appearance in The Tales of Ise, a Heian era poetry anthology. It is also the prefectural flower of Aichi prefecture.


The most distinguishing feature of the iris is the three petals that grow downwards. These petals can be smooth or jagged, but the all have a distinct vein running down the center. Iris also have a clump of smaller petals that grow upwards. Finally, iris have long, thin leaves that usually accompany the blossom.

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Nadeshiko (撫子) Pinks

Name: Nadeshiko (撫子) Pinks (A.K.A. Dianthus or Wild Carnation)

Seasonal Association: Summer, Autumn

When To Wear It: April-October

Auspicious: no


The nadeshiko has always had a strong association with women and love. The phonemes that make up the word (nade=stroked/petted and ko=child) indicate a strong personification of this flower.  In fact, waka poets saw the nadeshiko as a personification of a girl who has been raised by a man.  The nadeshiko’s association with women is still just as strong today. In the modern world, the term yamato nadeshiko is used to describe the ideal Japanese woman, the characteristics of which can be found here.  In addition, the name of The Japan National Woman’s Soccer Team, one of the darlings of Japanese sporting world, is Nadeshiko.

During the Heian period, nadeshiko would be a name applied to a juuni-hitoe that was appropriate for summer. The specific colors of this gown vary with different sources, but maroon, crimson, scarlet, pink, and lavender are all colors that are associated with it.

Aki no nanakusa (秋の七草):

The seven flowers or grasses of autumn. It’s unknown who first put together this group of plants as a representation of autumn, but it is a classic theme of even the oldest Japanese poetry.

It includes…
hagi (bush clover)
susuki (pampas grass)
kuzu (arrowroot)
nadeshiko (dianthus, pink, or wild carnation)
ominaeshi (valerian or maiden flower)
fujibakama (mistflower)
kikyo (Chinese bellflower) NB: occasionally, asagao (morning glory) is substituted for kikyo.

For more information on aki no nanakusa, check out http://www.urasenke.org/flowers/autumn.php 


Nadeshiko is another flower with five petals (see below). The petals of the nadeshiko are ragged at the edges.

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