Inside: A collection of traditional Japanese patterns and surface pattern designs and their meanings. All are in the Public Domain and free to print.
The history of Japanese patterns and textile designs is a fascinating story of innovation, creativity, and cultural exchange.
During the Edo period (1603-1868), Japan was largely closed off from the outside world, allowing for the development of a unique and distinct culture. Traditional Japanese art forms, such as ukiyo-e woodblock prints, kabuki theatre, and tea ceremony culture, heavily influenced Japanese textiles and patterns during this time. The designs were often bold and vibrant, featuring floral, geometric motifs and silk as the primary material.
In the mid-19th century (Meiji period (1868-1912)), Japan opened its doors to the West, leading to a period of cultural exchange. Western designs and technologies influenced Japanese artists and designers. It saw a shift towards more subdued and naturalistic patterns and increased use of cotton and wool in textile production. The natural elements included in the designs were flowers, birds, and landscapes.
The tradtional prints here focus mainly on those from the Meiji period.
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The Meaning Of Traditional Japanese Patterns
Another significant development during the Meiji period was the introduction of the Jacquard loom, a weaving machine that produced intricate and detailed patterns. This led to a surge in the popularity of complex designs, such as the “rinzu” pattern, which featured repeating geometric motifs.
In the early 20th century, the European Art Nouveau movement significantly influenced Japanese designs, creating a hybrid style known as “Japonisme.”
Here are twelve examples of the many traditional Japanese pattern designs and their meanings. Each pattern has its own unique story and symbolism and is a reflection of the rich artistic and cultural history of Japan.
- Seigaiha is a repeated pattern of concentric circles that resemble ocean waves. “Seigaiha” means “blue sea and waves,” and the design represents good luck and prosperity.
- Kikkou is a repeating pattern of hexagons resembling a tortoise’s shell. The tortoise symbolises longevity and good luck, and the Kikkou pattern represents these qualities.
- Asanoha is a geometric pattern that resembles a hemp leaf. The Asanoha pattern represents growth, strength, and good health.
- Tsuru is a repeated pattern of cranes. The crane represents good fortune, longevity, and happiness. It is prevalent in textiles, ceramics, and other art forms.
- Shippou is a repeating pattern of interlocking circles resembling the same name’s Buddhist symbol. Shippou represents the “Seven Treasures” of Buddhism, which include gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, agate, coral, and pearl.
- Sakura is a repeating pattern of cherry blossom flowers, symbolising renewal, vitality, and the fleeting nature of life.
- Ume is a repeating pattern of plum blossom flowers, symbolising perseverance, hope, and beauty in adversity.
- Yagasuri is a repeating pattern of diagonal lines which resemble arrows. It is a symbol of resilience and strength.
- Tatewaku is a repeating pattern of swirls resembling the shape of a fern. It is a symbol of growth, vitality, and natural beauty.
- Mizuhiki is a repeating pattern of knots traditionally used to decorate gifts in Japan. It is a symbol of good luck and friendship.
- Kumihimo is a repeating pattern of braided cords used in traditional Japanese textiles and crafts. It is a symbol of unity, strength, and creativity.
- Kusa is a repeating pattern of grasses and leaves, symbolising the natural world and the changing seasons. It is a symbol of the beauty and impermanence of life.
How To Download The Designs
Click on the title above the pattern you want. A higher resolution image will open in a new window on your browser. Click on that illustration and you will be able to print and save it.
All the Japanese patterns featured here are in the Public Domain so they are copy-right free.
Patterns & Designs From Kyūko zufu
Kyūko zufu is a famous Japanese design book known for its stunning illustrations of traditional Japanese patterns, inspiring generations of artists and designers.
One of the most distinctive features of Kyūko zufu is its use of rich, vibrant colours. The illustrations in the book are printed using a unique technique known as benizuri-e, which involves wood block printing multiple layers of paint.
Kyūko zufu was incredibly influential and helped spark a renewed interest in traditional Japanese patterns and design. Its impact can still be seen today, as many contemporary designers continue to draw inspiration from this iconic book’s stunning patterns and illustrations.
The prints below are from the a collection at the Smithsonian Libraries.
Patterns 1 -8
The small red pattern is an example of a “Kachō”, which means “flowers and birds”, and “ga”, which means “picture” or “painting.” Kachō-ga is a popular Japanese art and design motif featuring realistic and stylized depictions of various flowers and birds.
Pattern 2 Flower On Blue Hexagons
The pattern in the background is an example of Kikkou a repeating pattern of hexagons resembling a tortoise’s shell.
Pattern 4: Three Flower Motives
The Kiri pattern features a repeating pattern of paulownia flowers and leaves. It is a symbol of nobility, strength, and endurance.
Print 7: Checkerboard and Flowers
The Ichimatsu pattern features a repeating pattern of squares, resembling a checkerboard. It symbolises balance, harmony, and the Buddhist concept of the Middle Way.
Japanese Patterns 9-16
Pattern 9: Flowers and Colourful Geometrics
In the middle of the colourful flower pattern design are some diamond shapes. The Hishi pattern features a repeating pattern of diamond shapes, which resemble the scales of a fish. It is a symbol of good luck and protection from evil.
A classic example of Seigaiha, a repeated pattern of concentric circles that resemble ocean waves.
Kiku : Chrysanthemums are a symbol of the sun and are often associated with longevity and loyalty.
Pattern 12: Hexagons and Flowers
Seashell patterns can be found in various Japanese art forms, including pottery, lacquerware, and textiles. They are often incorporated into designs alongside other natural elements, such as waves, fish, and flowers, to create a sense of harmony and balance.
- Scallops (Hotate-gai): Scallops are a symbol of good luck and prosperity.
- Abalone (Awabi-gai): Abalone shells are a symbol of good fortune and safe travels.
- Clams (Hamaguri-gai): Clams are a symbol of contentment and harmony in the home.
- Cowrie (Tawara-gai): Cowrie shells are a symbol of money and wealth.
- Conch (Horagai): Conch shells are a symbol of communication, as they were traditionally used as a horn to signal important messages.
- Oyster (Kaki-gai): Oysters are a symbol of fertility and family harmony.
- Snail (Katatsumuri-gai): Snail shells are a symbol of longevity and good health.
Pattern 14: Colourful Birds Geometrics
Kumiko (Wooden lattice): Kumiko is a geometric pattern with a wooden lattice design. It represents bringing order to chaos and is often used in interior design.
Ume-gaeshi (Reverse plum blossom): Ume-gaeshi is a pattern that features plum blossoms and butterflies. The butterflies in this pattern are depicted with their wings folded as if they are resting on the plum blossoms. The design symbolises the coming of spring and the renewal of life.
The Karakusa pattern features a repeating pattern of scrolling vines, leaves, and flowers. It is a symbol of prosperity, longevity, and fertility.
A traditional Japanese flower pattern on vines is called “Karakusa“. It is a popular Japanese art and design motif featuring scrolling vines with leaves and flowers. It has its root in Chinese pattern design. The pattern is often used to decorate various objects, such as textiles, ceramics, and lacquerware.
Other Sources of Japanese Patterns
There are some further collections on the site that you should check out.
The first is from the Shin Bijutsukai, an influential Japanese art and design magazine that played a crucial role in shaping the course of Japanese art and design during the early 20th century. The magazine championed traditional Japanese arts and crafts and helped to create a sense of national pride and identity among Japanese artists and designers.
The second is Watanabe Seitei’s prints featured in Bijutsu Sekai. The magazine focused on Japanese art and featured articles and illustrations of the work of Japanese artists.
More Japanese vintage art and images are featured on the site. This includes Kusakabe Kimbei’s stunning hand-c stunning hand-coloured photographs of Japan during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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