Traditional Japanese patterns

Le motif Osaka, inspiré du motif traditionnel japonais sakura

Seigaha , sensu , yama , koi , sakura Do you know these terms from elsewhere? Do their exotic sounds stimulate your memory or arouse your curiosity? Behind these mysterious names hide traditional Japanese motifs , essential components and characteristics of Japanese art . These decorative elements with varied shapes, of geometric , floral or animal type , are an integral part of the creative landscape of the Asian archipelago . Appreciated for their aesthetic , they are also used for their symbolism . What are the values ​​and messages conveyed by these typical graphic representations? To find out, embark on a journey to the Land of the Rising Sun , discovering the most popular traditional Japanese motifs and their secret meaning .

Traditional Japanese patterns: a design made of symbols

In Japan, we speak of “ wagara ”. This is the word used for the traditional Japanese pattern.

The kimono, a support for traditional Japanese motifs

Adapted to contemporary design codes, wagara is however an ancestral use. For centuries, it has been available on multiple supports, more particularly on emblematic objects of traditional Japanese craftsmanship. In clothing and fashion, it adorns kimonos – the quintessential Japanese garment, now reserved for special occasions such as weddings – and yukata a less formal and lighter version of the kimono, worn in summer. More broadly in the world of textiles, it decorates tenugui , a thin cotton towel used as a paper towel, handkerchief or bandana, as well as furoshiki , a piece of fabric used to wrap and transport objects, notably gifts. As for tableware, we find it on ceramic tableware and Japanese chopsticks. In stationery, it gives rise to a wide variety of washi , handmade paper from mulberry trees, very popular today for creative hobbies. As functional as they are aesthetic, these everyday objects are adorned with pretty designs, characteristic of the Japanese graphic repertoire.

But beyond their decorative aspect, traditional Japanese patterns have a very specific meaning. They use symbols derived from ancestral customs and practices, Buddhist principles or elements of nature (animals, plants, seasons, reliefs, natural phenomena, etc.). They are used on purpose, to convey a particular message and highlight certain virtues. Each one explicitly bears the name of what it represents. They can be grouped into the following 5 categories:

  • geometric Japanese patterns;
  • Japanese patterns inspired by familiar objects;
  • Japanese patterns inspired by nature ;
  • Japanese animal motifs;
  • Japanese floral patterns.

For each family, let's look at one of its key motifs and its hidden meaning.

5 traditional Japanese patterns to (re)know

Seigaiha , the geometric pattern of the wave

The traditional Japanese seigaha pattern

In Japanese, the term " seigaiha " is written with three logograms,清海波, meaning "blue", "sea" and "wave" respectively. It is usually translated into French as “the waves of the blue sea” or “the blue waves of the ocean”. The pattern of the same name represents waves on the high seas, stylized in arcs of a circle. The illusion of sea waves is created by the alternation of concentric circles of different colors, often blue and white, repeated and superimposed infinitely. The seigaha pattern symbolizes calm, quiet strength, peace and good fortune.

Sensu , the Japanese fan pattern

The traditional Japanese pattern sensu

The fan, called “ sensu ”, is an everyday object in Japan. Bringing freshness and well-being during the heat of summer, it is also associated with refinement and elegance. Indeed, it is one of the favorite accessories of geishas, ​​these female artists and companions who practice traditional Japanese arts to entertain a wealthy clientele. Since it unfolds in a movement reminiscent of the blooming of a flower, it is equated with development and prosperity.

Yama , the natural motif of the sacred mountain

The traditional Japanese yama pattern

In Japan, mountains, called “ yama ”, are sacred spiritual places, connecting earth and sky, often hosting shrines, cults and religious pilgrimages. According to Shintoism, a Japanese animist religion, they are populated by spirits to be respected and honored, the kami . The most striking example: Mount Fuji. Located on the main island of Honshu, this iconic volcano, with its pristine white summit frequently lost in the clouds, is the highest point in the country. Among others, the goddess Kono-banasakuya-hime is said to live there, responsible for making the trees bloom, particularly the cherry trees. The yama motif is thus the symbol of spirituality and the divine.

Koi , the animal motif of the carp

The traditional Japanese koi pattern

Koï ” means both “carp” and “to be in love”. The Koi pattern , logically characterized by the design of a carp, evokes power, ambition, courage, perseverance and success, as well as love, passion, fertility and prosperity. Indeed, koi carp are large fish, dressed in sparkling and multicolored scales, known for their longevity – around twenty years on average, but up to 70 years for certain particularly resistant individuals! They are also the subject of a famous Chinese legend, very popular in Japan. Every year, the carp would swim up the long and dangerous Yellow River, fighting valiantly against the current. Only those reaching the Dragon Gate would be rewarded by being transformed into a magnificent golden dragon, with the losers having to try again the following year.

Sakura , the poetic motif of the cherry blossom

The traditional Japanese sakura pattern

Flowers occupy a special place in Japanese culture. The most emblematic: the cherry blossom, or “ sakura ” in Japanese (which also designates the tree). In the language of flowers, called “ hanakotoba ”, it is associated with kindness. The art of appreciating the delicacy of sakura even has a name: hanami . It is practiced by Japanese and tourists from all over the world during the cherry blossom period in spring, between March and May. It was precisely following a trip to Japan this season that Zoe Charlotte, interior architect and pattern designer , had the idea for the Osaka pattern. Designed exclusively for Perdième, it decorates the menstrual panties , the menstrual thong and the matching bra . Cherry blossoms have the particularity of not withering on the tree, but being carried away by the wind. This is why the sakura motif symbolizes the ephemeral side of beauty.

We also find our pattern in blue version on the Kyoto kimono .

There is a profusion of traditional Japanese patterns, each more beautiful and more symbolic than the last. You now know how to recognize a certain number of them and decipher their meaning. If you want to extend the journey a little and learn more about the theme of pattern, do not hesitate to read the following articles:

Written by cd