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. There are many colors which are considered as ‘auspicious or lucky’ by the Japanese people. Certain colors are very important at weddings and other rituals. There are many timeless rules associated with kimono colors as well. So let us take a look at what these different colors mean.
Kimono color meanings
Japanese kimono colors denote different meanings but it is the color of the Obi that is especially important. So if you see a woman wearing 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. In fact, though 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 the way to a wedding.
Traditional colors of Japan
For details on Japanese color symbolism chart please click here.
Red and white
Red and white are prominent traditional colors in Japan. Both colors are used in decorations at events which represent happiness and joy. People also wear these colors at important ceremonies such as weddings, birthdays and other life events. In general red color in Japan is associated with public phones, cherries and paint. 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 the terms for “embarrassment to death” or “growing red with anger” or “deficit spending or losses” or “complete stranger” are denoted with Japanese word for ‘red’.
White on the other hand is a popular color in cars in Japan but it inherently denotes death and mourning too. This peaceful color also stands for purity and truth. White is the color of snow, starting on a blank page, going back to the roots and to scorn or treat someone coldly.
What does the color blue mean in Japan? Blue symbolizes coolness, passivity as well as fidelity. It is a popular color in Japanese clothing. Many office workers wear different shades of blue whereas University students wear ‘recruitment suits in blue’ for job interviews. Blue is also one of the most important lucky colors in Japan 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 the tea leaves are green as well. 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 Shoowa and since he loved and respected nature and natural science, this day is dedicated to appreciation of nature. In short, green color in Japan represents youth, eternity, vitality and energy.
Silver and Gold
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 stated above, black and white are both colors of mourning in Japan. Wooden condolence gifts are often tied in envelopes stringed in black and white. Black in Japanese culture also denotes the 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” etc. Black also denotes evil-hearted person.
Pink is a popular color in Japanese clothing. Lingerie and flowers in pink are ideal gifts. Pink is the color for ‘off-color’ humor. It denotes spring, femininity, youth and good health.
Brown denotes Earth, strength and durability-it is also the color of wooden objects. The word cha or tea also has its roots in the words that denote different shades of brown in Japanese language.
This color denotes sunshine and nature in Japan. It is a popular color in flowers, clothes and in gardening. Yellow is the color of railway crossing and school children’s caps to denote warning and caution and also to increase visibility. In Far East Japan, people consider yellow a sacred color but in the Western, 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.
Purple and Orange
As in the west, purple stands for royalty in Japanese culture as well. Purple flowers are very popular too. Orange on the other hand, denotes love and happiness and is a popular color in clothing. This vibrant color also denotes civilization and knowledge.