Japan is a country steeped in tradition, and they use the beautiful language of colors in their art, dresses, phrases, and rituals. Even though western influences have changed several associations of colors, especially in art and dresses, some of the traditional color meanings are still valid today.
Many colors are considered auspicious or lucky by the Japanese people. Some colors are important at weddings and other rituals. There are even timeless rules associated with kimono colors. Let us take a look at what all these different colors mean.
Kimono Color Meanings
Japanese kimono colors have the same meanings as Japan’s traditional colors, but the color of the Obi (a broad sash that works as a belt) is especially important. So if you see a woman wearing a black or white kimono or a man wearing a black suit with a black tie, it does not necessarily mean they are attending a funeral.
Although white is associated with funerals, it is usually the color of the Obi that can further denote whether the dress is for a funeral or a wedding. For example, if a woman is wearing a white kimono with a colorful Obi, she is probably on her way to a wedding.
Traditional Colors of Japan and What They Symbolize
Here is an overview of the different color meanings in Japanese culture.
Red and White
Red and white are prominent traditional colors in Japan. Both colors are used in decorations at events that represent happiness and joy. People also wear these colors at important ceremonies such as weddings, birthdays, and other life events.
In Japan, red is generally associated with public phones, cherries, and paint. The color red in Japanese culture denotes strength, passion, self-sacrifice, and blood. It is the color that “gets the blood flowing.” Red bean rice is served on auspicious occasions. Many phrases such as “embarrassment to death,” “growing red with anger,” “deficit spending or losses,” or “complete stranger” are denoted with the Japanese word for red, which is “aka.”
White is the color of snow, which can mean starting on a blank page, returning to the roots, and treating someone coldly. This peaceful color stands for purity and truth but can also denote death and mourning. Pearl white is the most popular color in cars in Japan.
Blue symbolizes coolness, passivity, and fidelity. It is a popular color in Japanese clothing. Many office workers wear different shades of blue and University students wear “recruitment suits” in blue for job interviews. Blue is also one of Japan’s most important lucky colors, with the others in the category being yellow, white, purple, green, and red.
Green is another special color in Japan, and it is very popular in clothing as it is restful and fresh. Tea, especially matcha and green tea, are both green in color after brewing, and so are the tea leaves. Tea is very important in Japanese culture. Japan celebrates greenery day as they love and respect vegetation, foliage, and nature. April 29th is the birthday of Emperor Showa, and since he loved and respected nature and natural science, this day is dedicated to appreciating nature. In short, the green color in Japan represents youth, eternity, vitality, and energy.
Gold and Silver
Gold is used extensively in decoration and symbolizes wealth and prestige. Silver is used in tools and weapons and represents precision, masculinity, and high-tech strength.
Black is a popular color in Japan for electronics and clothing. It mainly denotes non-being, mystery, night, and anger. Calligraphy is usually done in black ink on white paper. As mentioned, black and white are both mourning colors in Japan. Wooden condolence gifts are often tied in envelopes stringed in black and white. Black in Japanese culture also symbolizes hair and eyes. Many phrases consist of the Japanese word for black, such as “clarifying between right and wrong” or “rolling one’s eyes in surprise, fright, or anguish.” Black also symbolizes an evil-hearted person.
Brown symbolizes the earth, strength, and durability. It is also the color of wooden objects. The word cha or tea has roots in words denoting different shades of brown in the Japanese language.
Pink is a popular color in Japanese clothing, and lingerie or flowers in pink are considered ideal gifts. Pink is the color for “off-color” humor. It denotes spring, femininity, youth, and good health.
The color yellow symbolizes sunshine and nature in Japan. It is a popular color in flowers, clothes, and gardening. It is also the color of railway crossings and school children’s caps because it increases visibility and indicates warning and caution. In Far East Japan, people consider yellow a sacred color, but in the West, it denotes treachery. The Japanese term for someone “having a yellow beak” means one who is inexperienced, whereas someone with a “yellow voice” means the shrill voice of women and kids.
As in the West, purple stands for royalty in Japanese culture. It is also considered the color of warriors, symbolizing strength. Purple flowers are very popular too.
Orange symbolizes love and happiness and is a popular color in clothing. This vibrant color also denotes civilization and knowledge.