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Looking at Traditional Japanese Patterns!

Our new-in-for-spring 48cm Reversible Furoshiki Bright Pink Cherry Blossom and Blue Wave

To celebrate our new spring furoshiki, I'm keen to discover more about the traditional Japanese patterns which feature on some of our beautiful furoshiki from Kyoto!

Traditional Japanese designs, wagara, have a long history in Japan. Many date back to the beginning of the Heian era in the 8th century, and were often inspired by nature and carried specific meaning. Let's take a look at just some of the designs!


Seigaiha (Qinghai Wave)

Firstly, the sea wave pattern. This beautiful, calming nature pattern features on our new Bright Pink Cherry Blossom and Blue Wave Kyoto Furoshiki!

This pattern features the concentric circle pattern of waves of the sea. The name originates from the gagaku ancient court dance called Seigaiha which translates to Qinghai Wave. The pattern appears to have originated on ancient Chinese maps - Qinghai has a large inland sea - and the pattern was incorporated into the costumes for the Kyoto court dance, in which the waving of the long draping sleeves is an elegant part.

In the seventh chapter of The Tale of Genji called Momiji no Ga, Genji and his good friend Tō no Chūjō rehearse and then perform the Seigaiha. It is described by Murasaki as as an incredibly moving performance of great beauty:

'Captain Genji danced 'Blue Sea Waves'.

His partner the Secretary Captain, His Excellency of the Left's son,

certainly stood out in looks and skill,

but beside Genji he was only a common mountain tree next to a blossoming cherry.

As the music swelled and the piece reached its climax in the clear light of the late afternoon sun,

the cast of Genji's features and his dancing gave the familiar steps an unearthly quality.'

The music really does sound like the autumn winds blowing across the waves. Astonishingly, you can listen to the ancient Kyoto court music called gagaku on YouTube: the link to listen to Seigaiha is here! It's very ethereal and otherworldly :)

Attributed to Tosa Mitsuyoshi, this 17th century hanging scroll

illustrates the Seigaiha in Chapter 7 of The Tale of Genji.

The Seigaiha wave pattern also features in the samon of the dry landscape karesansui temple gardens too. It is a design that represents a wish for eternal peace and happiness :)



I've featured this design simply because it's so striking, and I saw it used as the kimono uniform of a Meiji-era bank in Japanese morning drama Asa ga Kita!

It's resonant of the ancient sport yabusame, which looks incredibly thrilling, and is still practised in Kyoto today! You can read more about in our blog Genji and the Changing Seasons!

The yagasuri pattern features the feathered tips of arrows, and as an arrow flies in a direct line, the pattern is said to symbolise determination. An arrow also never returns, so this pattern symbolises good luck at weddings.


Shippō (Seven Treasures)

Our 70cm Hare Tsutsumi Seven Treasures Furoshiki is a very special furoshiki. If you look carefully at the photo you'll see a hint of the pearl-white pattern that runs across the fabric. This is the Shippō pattern, and the screen-printed white pattern picks up the light and has a beautiful shine.

This traditional Japanese pattern features overlapping circles that are highlighted as quarters which take on the form of petals while the centres form shining stars.

It is a pattern that signifies harmony in relationships.


Karakusa (Winding Plant)

The first furoshiki that I bought in Kyoto features the karakusa pattern. Yukki is wearing it here as a fantastic furoshiki backpack!

As part of our new Spring Collection we have a beautiful silvery gray furoshiki that is big enough to create an adult furoshiki backpack, and you can find it here!

The popular karakusa pattern came to Japan via the Silk Road. It symbolizes longevity and prosperity with its vines reaching out, curling, and elongating.


Ichimatsu (Checker)

This pattern of alternating coloured squares became known as Ichimatsu in the eighteenth century in reference to the kabuki actor Sanogawa Ichimatsu who used it in his costume hakama (see image below).

The Ichimatsu design was also incorporated into the wonderful moss garden designed by Mirei Shigemori in 1939 at Tofukuji, south of Kyoto.

I love the contrast between the cushions of springy moss and the hard surface of the stone :)

You can see an earlier version of the checker pattern in Kyoto below, decorating the strikingly modern-looking fusuma sliding doors of the Shokin-tei teahouse at the 17th century Katsura Imperial Villa.


I'm thrilled to discover the origins of the wave and checker patterns on my beloved phone case,

which came from the studio where I learned how to wrap furoshiki in Kyoto!

We hope you have enjoyed our exploration of some of the traditional Japanese patterns

that surround us here at Zusetsu every day!

Thank you for reading,

Cathy and Yukki



Pattern pictures: thank you to

Genji dances the Seigaiha painting: Harvard Art Museum/New York Times

Karesansui wave pattern: thank you to

Yabusame photo: Pinterest

Sharing Kyoto: Katsura Imperial Villa


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