10 Japanese Patterns (Wagara) Steeped in History and Their Traditional Meaning


Traditional Japanese patterns or wagara have garnered admirers around the world for centuries. From the delicate intricacies of hand-woven and dyed Japanese fabric patterns to the timeless charm of motifs such as asanoha, the allure of these designs is unparalleled. Drawing inspiration from the natural world, they transcend mere art, telling stories of tradition and symbolism.
In this article we will explore 10 unique Japanese patterns, delving into their origins, meanings, and enduring relevance in contemporary aesthetics.

10 Japanese "Wagara" Patterns

1. Asanoha (Hemp Leaf Pattern)

One of the most iconic wagara, the simple yet bold asanoha pattern symbolizes the strong and quick-growing hemp plant.
Derived from its name asa (hemp) and ha (leaf), this Japanese pattern draws inspiration from the hemp leaf's structure - resembling six-pointed stars, the design signifies growth, strength, and durability, as hemp thrives even under harsh conditions.

Traditionally used to adorn Buddhist statues during the Heian period (794-1185), the pattern gradually became popular among the common people, becoming a fashionable design for kimono during the Edo period (1603-1867). 

The significance of the hemp leaf also played into the asanoha design becoming the standard for baby clothes—parents often made clothing for their children with asanoha in the hopes that their child would grow as quickly and as healthily as the hemp plant. 
Enduring in its popularity, the auspicious meaning behind this design makes items decorated with asanoha the perfect gift for expecting mothers or parents with small children.

Recomended Asanoha Pattern Products on BECOS:

Hasami Ware Asanoha Plate

asanoha plate

This beautiful indigo platter by Saikai Toki will easily become a staple centerpiece in your home. Evoking the deep blue of the ocean, the bold white asanoha pattern creates a modern yet timeless feel - perfect for entertaining guests or serving family meals at home.

Lacquered Asanoha-Patterned Folding Fan

asanoha folding fan

This simple yet elegant folding fan by SUIHIRODO is not only eye-catching, but practical as well. Hand-painted in lacquer, the luster of the asanoha motif is both dignified and refined, making for a beautiful addition to your home decor or a fashionable way to cool down during warmer months!

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2. Kanoko (Fawn Pattern)

kanoko japanese pattern

Kanoko translates to “fawn” in English, getting its name from the pattern’s similarity to the mottled appearance of a baby deer’s fur. Deer have been revered as messengers of the gods since ancient times in Japan, and are also considered a symbol of prosperity of offspring due to their vitality and fertility.

Historically, the kanoko design has been famously associated with shibori, a labor-intensive method of tie-dye where every single dot is individually tied before dye is applied. The smaller the dots and the more intricate the design, the more complex and time-consuming the process required to create, which made the pattern largely exclusive to the nobility and aristocracy during the Heian period (794-1185). 

Today, although textured kanoko shibori fabric is less commonly seen due to the laborious process, the charming visual motif of kanoko has carried on and remains popular in various forms of Japanese art and design.

Best Kanoko Pattern Products on BECOS:

kanoko deer

This cute little deer by Hiroyuki Kikuta is hand-dyed using the kanoko shibori method - the same method used in dyeing kimono. It is a perfect art piece to keep on your desk or side table and is sure to brighten your day!
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3. Seigaiha (Wave Pattern)

seigaiha pattern

The seigaiha pattern literally means “blue ocean waves”, but can come in a variety of colors. The pattern entered Japanese culture from China in the 6th century, being used to represent water on maps during that time.

It gained traction as a textile pattern in Japan during the Heian period (794-1185) when it was initially used in court music garb, indicating its roots in the ceremonial and royal aspects of Japanese culture.

The design symbolizes waves of good luck, peace, and good fortune. It is also a representation of power and resilience, similar to the undulating, constant waves of the sea. The rhythmic and repetitive pattern evokes a sense of perpetual motion, like waves, depicting a wish for unending peacefulness in one's life. 

This meaning makes the seigaiha pattern a particularly good choice for wedding gifts and the like, as a wish for constant waves of prosperity for the recipient.

Best Seigaiha Pattern Products on BECOS

Mikawachi Ware Seigaiha Sake Bottle and Cup Set

seigaiha sake set

This uniquely shaped sake bottle and cup set from HIRADO SHOZAN is both simple and eye-catching. The concave shape makes the bottle easy to hold and pour, and the beautiful seigaiha pattern is sure to evoke a sense of tranquility whenever you gaze upon it.

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4. Karakusa (Winding Plant Pattern)

karakusa japanese pattern

Originating in Ancient Egypt and transferring to Japan from China through the Silk Road during the Nara Period (710-794), the karakusa pattern is one of the oldest patterns adapted to become wagara.

The name karakusa translates to “winding plant”, and the pattern depicts vines intertwining and twisting endlessly in every direction, symbolizing longevity as well as resilience and growth.

The pattern is especially common in furoshiki cloths used to wrap and transport goods, and comes in many different colors. The meaning of longevity and resilience makes it a wonderful choice for a wedding or housewarming gift!

Best Karakusa Pattern Products on BECOS:

Urushi Thermo Mug Bottle

karakusa bottle

This tumbler bottle from TAKUMIICHI comes in both red and black, featuring a striking karakusa design in lacquer covering the outside. Perfect by itself or as part of a matching pair, it is sure to make hydration stylish wherever you go!

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5. Uroko (Scale Pattern)

uroko pattern

Uroko means “scales”, as in those of a fish, snake, or dragon. The uroko pattern depicts triangle-shaped scales in a repeating pattern, often in high contrast colors.

Since ancient times, the triangle pattern has been associated with demons and illness, so the ancient peoples of Japan would intentionally sketch triangles on tomb walls and various items to symbolize the triumph of gods over malevolent forces, as an effort to protect against evil and undesirable entities.

One of the most famous depictions of this Japanese pattern is in that of the crest of the Hojo Clan, who ruled Japan during the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), making it a strong and instantly recognizable symbol of power. 

Samurai warriors were also known to wear armor and clothing with the uroko pattern as a symbol of protection. 

Today, you can still find the uroko design in textiles, interior design, ceramics, and the like.

Recommended Uroko Pattern Items on BECOS

Koshu Inden (Lacquered Deer Leather) Wallet

uroko wallet

This coin purse from INDEN-YA comes in a variety of traditional Japanese patterns in colored lacquer on smooth deerskin leather, including uroko, hishi, and shippo. Large enough to fit bills and cards but small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, it is the perfect portable wallet for a day out.

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6. Shippo (Interlocking Circles Pattern)

shippo japanese pattern

Shippo translates to “seven treasures” in English, referring to the seven treasures of Buddhism. These treasures include gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, agate, red pearl, and carnelian, which in turn represent the seven powers of faith, perseverance, sense of shame, avoidance of wrongdoing, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. 

The shippo design, with its eternal chain of interconnected circles, is a pattern of good omens, filled with wishes for happiness, harmony, and karma.

This Japanese design dates back to at least the Nara Period (710-794), and has long been a popular pattern for family crests and ceramics, gaining popularity across the centuries in textile use as well. 

Recommended Shippo Pattern Items on BECOS

shippo scarf


This colorful cotton stole by NOGIGUCHI KIHEI is dyed in a shippo pattern using a traditional dyeing style from Kyoto called the Kyo Yuzen technique. Its bright colors and light cotton material make it the perfect statement piece for spring or summer!

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7. Yabane/Yagasuri (Arrowfeather Pattern)

yabane japanese pattern

This Japanese pattern goes by two names: yabane or yagasuri, both meaning “arrow feathers.”

Especially auspicious at weddings and other important ceremonies, the meaning comes from a traditional Japanese saying that once an arrow is shot, it flies straight and does not return. In the Edo Period (1603-1868)  brides were often given a kimono with the yagasuri pattern on it to represent their never having to return to their original family home. 

Female students have often worn this pattern since the Meiji (1868–1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) Periods in Japan, and it is often seen today worn by female graduates at university graduation ceremonies to signify their flying straight towards happiness. 

Recommended Yagasuri Products on BECOS:

Washi Ball (Children's Toy) with Traditional Patterns
yagusuri ball

These paper ball toys by Aeru are a representative toy of children in Japan, and are made of Ikasaki Washi paper, which has been handed down from generation to generation since the Heian period (794-1185). They come in three different patterns, including yagasuri and shippo, and are certain to provide good traditional fun for any child in your life!

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8. Ichimatsu (Checkerboard Pattern)

ichimatsu japanese pattern

Ichimatsu, or the checkerboard pattern, is a familiar pattern to most. The term ichimatsu refers to a particular style of checkered pattern where two colors are used in an alternating style. Usually, the colors are quite contrasting, such as red and white, to make a striking visual impact.

Though the pattern itself has been widely used since the middle ages in architectural decoration, textiles, and lacquerware, the name ichimatsu is derived from the Kabuki actor, Sanogawa Ichimatsu, who lived during the Edo period (1603-1868). He was famous for wearing a kimono with a distinctive checkered pattern, and thus, the pattern was apparently given the nickname in his honor. 

A timeless design, the endlessly repeating squares represent continuous prosperity, and the pattern was even used in the emblems of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Recommended Ichimatsu Pattern Products on BECOS:

Ichimatsu Beckoning Cat (Maneki Neko)

ichimatsu beckoning cat

This five-star-rated manekineko (beckoning cat) doll by Kakinuma Dolls is sure to bring you good luck in your everyday life. While the ichimatsu pattern itself symbolizes prosperity, the raised right hand of the cat also represents inviting good fortune and money to its owner, bringing you all the more good luck!

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9. Tatewaku (Rising Steam Pattern)


tachiwaku japanese pattern

The tatewaku, or rising steam, design consists of two wavy lines facing each other in a vertical pattern, representing rising steam or clouds.

Popular since the Heian period (794-1185), dyeing or weaving textiles in this fashion used to require very advanced techniques, so it was worn only by members of the upper class.

While the initial pattern may seem simple, it is also common to find patterns of waves or flowers within the wavy lines, creating a very intricate design.

As for a meaning behind the tatewaku pattern, the rising of the clouds or steam are said to bring “rising fortune”, so it has been beloved as an auspicious design in Japan since ancient times.

Recommended Tatewaku Products on BECOS:

Gold Leaf Tatewaku Card Case

tachiwaku wallet

This stunning card case featuring a tatewaku design from Morphosphere is made from silk obi fabric and gold leaf, dyed using a traditional technique from Kyoto called Kyo Yuzen. Able to hold credit cards and business cards, this card case is sure to start up conversations at parties.

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10. Hishi (Water Chestnut Pattern)

hishi japanese pattern

The word hishi directy translates to “water chestnut.” The pattern is made up of four slanting lines that join to create repeating diamond shapes, bringing to mind the shape of a water chestnut.

The simple design has been found on pottery dating as far back as the Jomon Period (14000-300 BC), and was one of the patterns used in the clothing of aristocrats during the Heian Period (794-1185) to denote rank and status.  

The water chestnut is a strong and highly fertile fruit, so the hishi pattern carries with it the meaning of continuous good health.

The diamond shape is also an important symbol of the Hina Matsuri (Girl’s Day Festival), where families eat hishimochi, diamond shaped rice cakes, to pray for the health of their daughters.


Recommended Hishi Pattern Products on BECOS:

Wagara Sake Cup Set
hishi pattern

This set of five beautiful sake cups by MARUMO TAKAGI features auspicious Japanese designs including the hishi, seigaiha, shippo, asanoha, and ume plum blossoms in smoky pink. The cups can also be used to hold incense and condiments, etc. at the dining table, and are recommended as gifts for celebrations of old age, anniversaries, and other special occasions.

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Make Japanese Wagara Patterns a Part of Your Life

In unraveling the enigmatic meanings behind these 10 traditional Japanese patterns, we unearth a world where art and symbolism intertwine. Each pattern becomes a portal to Japan's cultural tapestry, revealing stories of nature, spirituality, and human aspirations. From the rhythmic seigaiha representing eternal oceans to the bold asanoha embodying growth, these timeless motifs bridge the past and present, reminding us of the reverence for tradition and the deep connection to the natural world. By wearing and enjoying wagara today, we are connected over the centuries to the peoples of the past - people who shared the same wishes and prayers as we do today.

Japanese Pattern FAQ

What are Japanese Patterns Called?

Japanese patterns are called "wagara" in Japanese. "Wa" means both "harmony" and "Japan" or "Japanese style", while "gara" means "pattern." Each pattern also has its own specific name in Japanese, invoking the natural phenomenon that the design is based on.

Do Japanese Patterns Have Meanings?

Most wagara are based on patterns found in nature, and each pattern traditionally holds an auspicious meaning, ranging from the healthy growth of children to prosperity in business ventures. Prevalent in Japanese culture since the 8th century, one can find various wagara inviting good luck throughout kimono, architecture, household goods, handkerchiefs, and just about any other item found in everyday life in Japan.
Japanese culture/experiences