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The Japanese Kimono: Traditional Colors Used & Their Speciality

Updated on June 25, 2017

We all know the seven main colors: Violet, Indigo, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange and Red. There are a million variants of these colors available from light to dark in the color spectrum. There are a few colors which are historically or culturally significant to a group of people. For example, the color 'Indigo' was used extensively in the dyeing industry in the past in countries such as India, China and Egypt. Similarly, the color 'Red' is seen as a spiritual color in Buddhism across many parts of Asia; the color 'Saffron (a tone of golden yellow)' is seen as a religious symbol in Jainism and Hinduism and so on. However, there are a few unique shades of colors little known to us which also have a unique place in culture. Let`s have a look at them!


Gunjyou is a traditional color of Japan used quite extensively in its literature, art and textile industry. Japan used to have a social hierarchy system in which officials of different ranks wore different colored robes. These special colors are called 'Kinjiki' and common people are not allowed to wear them. Most of these color variants have Chinese names. 'Gunjyou (群青色)' means 'collection of blues' and was used in paintings and on certain fabrics. It is a different version of blue with purple hints. It is extracted from a mineral called 'ruri' or 'lapis lazuli'. This color was used in palaces to decorate luxurious rooms and also in pictures and folding fabrics. The Momoyama period has seen the extensive usage of this color.

Gunjyou | Source


Chigusa is also an important color in the culture of Japan. It is the color of the Kimonos. It is the greenish light blue color. In previous days, kimonos were used to be dyed light blue with the help of indigo plants or 'spiderwort(tsuyukusa)'. These kimonos were used especially by the merchant class in Japan. After some time of use, these kimonos start fading out and were dyed again resulting in the Chigusa color. Chigusa is worn especially in the summer as it looks bright and attractive. This color is used extensively in Yuzen dyeing technique where picturesque designs were painted on kimonos and 'haori(short coats)' using paper patterns. Kyoto is an important place if one want to witness this dyeing method. It is also called 'Kyo-yuzen' and is designated as an important cultural craft by the government.

Chigusa | Source
Tsuyukusa | Source

Most of these colors had been extracted from plants up until Meiji period where synthetic dyes became popular. The color system has a unique place in Japanese history.

© 2017 Yashwanth Kumar


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