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Read: Exploring Japan via Color and Kimono

Whether you are traveling to Japan or an armchair aficionado, “Kimono and the Colors of Japan” is a different sort of guidebook.

It’s an exploration of Japanese color theory through the lens of the country’s most iconic and traditional fashion, the kimono.

Written by renowned Japanese stylist and kimono antiquarian Katsumi Yumioka, the book looks at colors–singly and in combinations–and their meanings in the context of Japanese culture, history and sensibility.

The book is organized by color according to what Yumioka calls “Japanese Kokoro no Iro,” or “colors of the Japanese heart.” It is illustrated with about 150 photographs of antique kimono and obi from his vast collection. They range in age from the Edo period, which began in 1603, to the present day.

(In case you’re not familiar, a kimono is a full-length, long-sleeve robe that is secured at the waist with a wide sash called an obi. It has been a classic Japanese garment for both women and men for more than a thousand years. Today, however, it is mostly worn by women for formal occasions or festivals.)

A noble color, yellow expresses the joy of the harvest.


In each color chapter are images of kimono and obi that represent what Japanese people find to express or signify. For example, the color red indicates the sun, blood and fire. Pink conveys the long awaited spring. The combination of white, black and gold is an expression of cheer, but the combination of white, black and silver communicates sadness.

“Kimono and the Colors of Japan” is published by PIE International Inc., a Tokyo-based publisher of art books. The book was originally published in 2005 and has been re-released in its new format. The text is in both English and Japanese.

The book is an enjoyable read, not only for the gorgeous photographs but also for the lessons in historic events and the evolution of fabric arts.

Now let’s look at some more colors:




Purple is most often spotted during the month of iris flowers are in full bloom. The hue has been a color signifying royalty from ancient times through the world. In more modern times, purple is an expression of happiness and good  things.




Pink is the quintessential color of spring. The tender, sweet, soft color is also often used to describe a woman’s heart.




Because the Japanese words for “dawn” and “red” are very similar, the color red has traditionally represented the sun.

Many thanks to PIE International Inc. for providing me with a copy of “Kimono and the Colors of Japan” by Katsumi Yumioka and use of the images posted here.

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