Traditional Motifs in Japanese Culture
There are many resources available
to describe the long-standing motifs that have existed in Japanese
culture, many for hundreds of years (or longer). The book The
Techniques of Japanese Embroidery
by Shuji Tamura has some
interesting information concerning them. Here, in no particular order,
are a few:
): The turtle
shares with the crane the quality of longevity, possibly because its
life span is so long; you'll often see green on the shell, symbolizing
moss growing on the shell since the turtle lives so long. The shell is
often depicted as one or two hexagons, since this is often the shape
seen in the center of the real thing in nature.
Crane (tsuru): a very common motif, and it represents longevity since
cranes mate for life. They also represent new life, since it carries
seeds within its body.
Plum (ume), Pine (matsuba
): these are called
the "3 friends of winter", and often are displayed together. They may
often be referred to by their Chinese name sho-chiku-bai. The pine
and the bamboo symbolize endurance because they remain green all winter.
The unchanging appearance of the pine brings a feeling of good luck and
happiness. It is also a symbol of longevity because of its long
life. Bamboo grows quickly to its full height and thus is considered to
be full of strength, indicating nobility, purity, honesty, and serious
character. The plum which blooms while there is still snow,
symbolizing new hope; an old tree still produces blooms, so it too
stands for longevity.
Ferns, because of their many spores, suggest a wish for
): because of
their broadening size, they carry a meaning to wish for increase.
Flax-leaf: stands for parental hopes that children will grow straight
Overlapping diamonds (mitsubishi): means pine bark.
Cross: is a symbol of expansiveness
Overlapping circles: expansiveness
Carp: represents strength and perseverance.
Imperial cart: in ancient days before paved roads, only members of the
imperial court could use wheeled conveyances, thus the cart represents a
high level of dignity.
Cherry blossom (sakura): fleeting beauty of life
You will frequently find cranes
and turtles on cards, or gifts used for births, marriage, and other
annual events. The bamboo, pine and plum are frequently seen on
everything from lacquered dishes to kimono, and yukata. Sakura - a
good reminder to treasure the moment. The wheeled cart can
frequently be found as part of the decoration on a wedding kimono, or in
an even more concrete form as a miniature wheeled cart holding a vase of
flowers on a table in a home or restaurant. Cranes and turtles are
appropriate for a birth, especially worked in red. Weddings use
cranes, pine, and bamboo. Wedding anniversaries are not as avidly
observed in Japan as they are in the West, although any of the above
would be most suitable.
Techniques of Japanese Embroidery by Shuji Tamura;
additional thanks to Sue H.
is a TemariKai.com Printable Page; © 2014, all rights reserved.
Right click to print one copy for personal use.