What Is the Meaning of Color in Japanese Culture?
25 JUN 2018
Japanese society has long-standing traditions that have shaped the Japanese for millennia. Specifically, colors have symbolic associations that appear in Japanese art, dress and rituals. Many colors have maintained those meanings even as Japanese society rapidly changes. Drawing inspiration from nature and historical texts, Japanese color symbolism helps identify the emotional state or desires of those wearing or celebrating with certain colors.
Black is a powerful and foreboding color in Japanese culture. Traditionally, black has represented death, destruction, doom, fear and sorrow. Especially when used alone, black represents mourning and misfortune, and is often worn to funerals. Black has also traditionally been a color of formality, and has increasingly come to represent elegance, with the growing popularity of Western conceptions of black tie events. While the strict color Rank System with colors based on a merit level in society are no longer in place, traditional Japanese colors still hold an important position in Japanese culture.
White has been an auspicious color in Japan for much of its history. White represents purity and cleanliness in traditional Japanese society, and is seen as a blessed color. Because of the sacred nature of the color, white is the color of weddings and other joyful life events, and appears on the Japanese flag. In Japanese art, predominate colors have varied through the centuries but the simplicity of black and white are a common thread.
Red is a powerful color in traditional Japanese society, representing strong emotions rather than ideas. As the color of the sun in Japanese culture and on the Japanese flag, red is the color of energy, vitality, heat, and power. Red also represents love and intimacy, including sexual desire and the life force and people's energy. For these cultural reasons, brides wearing red on their wedding day consider it a celebratory and strong color. Red envelopes with money in them are given on special occasions like weddings, baby births and New Year celebrations.
Blue is also a color which represents purity and cleanliness in traditional Japanese culture, largely because of the vast stretches of blue water that surrounds the Japanese islands. As such, blue also represents calmness and stability. Additionally, blue is considered a feminine color, and so, in combination with the association with purity and cleanliness, blue is often the color young women wear to show their purity. As a traditional Japanese color, shades of blue are used on kimonos to represent the seasons and fashion expressions.
Green is the color of fertility and growth in traditional Japanese culture. As the color of nature, the Japanese word for green, midori, is also the word for vegetation. In addition, the color green represents youth and vitality, and the energy of growth. Green can also represent eternity, since evergreen trees never lose their leaves or stop growing. Bringing the color green into home decor is viewed as adding the same sense of nature inside.