Kimono are filled with motifs that act as a hidden language for those who know how to read them.
Some of the most common and popular motifs include
–Cranes (鶴): Tall and graceful, these birds used to be located across the entire country. Due to habitat destruction and human expansion they are now only found on the most northern island of Japan called Hokkaido. Cranes are a symbol of longevity as they live an average of 40 to 50 years. However, they are best known as symbols of fidelity as they mate for life and perform a new courtship dance with their partner each year to renew and strengthen their bonds.
–Turtles (亀): These animals are a staple in Japanese mythology due to the unique folktales that surround them. It is said that when a turtle reaches 1,000 years old it will grow a long, magical tail and fly to the heavens to become a god. Their shells are said to become stronger with age, so they become sought after for protection, making the animals a popular symbol of endurance and longevity.
–Plum Blossoms (梅): They are among the first flowers to bloom in the new year and are a symbol that spring has now begun to arrive and that the snows will finally retreat. They are symbols of rebirth and hope. Together with bamboo and pine, they create the trio known as Shōchikubai (松竹梅), which is a lucky trio often depicted on kimono worn at weddings or special ceremonies like misedashi and erikae.
–Bamboo (竹): One of the fastest-growing plants in the world, bamboo is as strong as any wood from a tree and just as durable. They begin to sprout anew each year in January and their sprouts are considered lucky for growth if eaten in the new year. Because of this, they are symbols of growth and endurance.
–Pine (松): A tree that never loses its green color, pine trees are a welcome sight among the white snow that covers the landscape in the winter. Pines are symbols of strength for being able to hold large amounts of snow on its branches without breaking and a symbol of masculinity for being able to hold up their partner, who is traditionally depicted by wisteria.
–Wisteria (藤): Although a vine, wisteria can be trained into trees. However, it is a plant that must be given constant care as it will continue to grow indefinitely. Wisteria shares the “Castle Destroyer” nickname with oiran as their stunning pea blossom-like blooms are a breathtaking sight to behold each spring, but the plant is so strong that it will extend its roots where ever it can, which may even lead to cracking and destroying the foundation of houses! They are symbols of strength and grace for their stunning blooms and strong nature. As the female counterpart to pine, it is often shown climbing up a pine tree and intertwining its shoots with the pine’s branches to create a complete pair.
–Butterflies (蝶): Unlike the other motifs butterflies deal with death instead of life. It is said that a butterfly is the physical manifestation of a person’s soul, and to see a butterfly is to see a person’s soul flying to the afterlife. Because of this butterflies are a symbol of life and a reminder that life is fleeting. They are also symbols of spring as to see a butterfly is a sign that snow and frost are gone and it’s safe to plant one’s vegetables and rice again.
–Chrysanthemums (菊): One of the two national flowers of Japan, the other being cherry blossoms, it is the symbol of the emperor and the imperial family. Chrysanthemums were one of the first flowers to be kept by the nobility after they were imported from China in the 5th century and soon adopted by the emperor for their beauty and stature. Chrysanthemums are celebrated in grand displays held each October and are a sight not to be missed!
–Peonies (牡丹): Nicknamed “The King of Flowers,” this formidable plant displays huge, stunning blooms each spring whose size can scarcely be matched by any other flower. They are symbols of strength and beauty and will often be paired with chrysanthemums for their similar symbolism.
–Water (水): A popular symbol of change as water is constantly flowing and on the move. During the winter it is often colored orange instead of blue as blue evokes a sense of coolness compared to the warm orange.
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