April 13, 2010
by Miku Nogami; Yukari Maruoka
Traditional Japanese Designs
What is wagara?
Generally, wagara means a Japanese pattern or design. Our ancestors created these patterns by combining elements of painting and Chinese calligraphy, and they produced wonderful designs. Some patterns are still being created for wagara. It is a design found only in Japan and is very traditional.
Understanding wagara is kind of difficult, even for Japanese, because there are many patterns and each one has a specific meaning.
First of all, there are ten basic designs. Seigaiha (青海波), which is a big wave of the blue ocean; Tatewaku (立涌); Kikkou (亀甲), which is the shell of a turtle, and is a common design representing the intellect and bliss throughout China and Korea; Kagome (籠目); Hishi (菱); Sankuzushi (三崩し); Ten (点); Shima (縞); Uroko (鱗), which is a mixture of equilateral or isosceles triangles; and Ichimatu (市松). Additional designs include Kacho-huugetu (花鳥風月) and Huujin-raijin (風神雷神).
These designs have been used from long ago to now. Today’s designers make new wagara by mixing contemporary patterns with old ones. For example, seasonal flowers, pine, bamboo and plum, cherry blossoms, running water, waves, plants, and creatures like the butterfly, goldfish, crane, and rabbit.
Why have wagara designs become popular recently?
For a long time, wagara designs were used only for kimono and yukata. So people think of wagara as traditional and very formal, and a little old-fashioned.
In the past, Japanese wore kimono as casual wear. But recently we don’t wear kimono often. That means that kimono don’t sell well, and the kimono industry has deteriorated. And then, the makers of kimono thought how to make kimono more popular.
They wanted us to become closer to traditional designs first, so they made products using wagara designs, such as bags, pouches, and clothes. Because of their efforts, those products have become popular among women, and the image of wagara is changing. It once was considered to be old and out-of-style, but now people think it is cool and beautiful.
Wagara products are more popular in Kyoto than other cities because Kyoto is the most traditional city in Japan, and its people like history and Japanese traditions.
Who buys the new wagara-inspired products?
According to our research, mostly people in their 30s buy wagara goods. Why don’t younger Japanese buy the goods? We think it is because the designs are too Japanese. Young Japanese like us are not interested in wagara, because we feel the patterns belong to our parents’ and grandparents’ eras, and the designs don’t fit us. But today designers are making new ones, so we think gradually young people will like them more than before.
Some examples of new products being made using wagara include sneakers, sandals, umbrellas, hats, Print Club (Purikura), lighters, wallet, jeans, and silver accessories. One young kimono designer is even making some wagara-inspired T-shirts, and her name is Sayaka Iwano (http://www.rakuten.co.jp/craftcafe/786699/). She’s making very cute T-shirts, and her designs might catch on among young people.
“Wafufu”: A wagara shop
One shop that sells wagara goods is “Wafufu,” located near Kawaramachi Sanjyo. They sell bags, pouches, kimono and other products. The shop’s atmosphere is very quiet and intimate. Many of the customers are women, their ages 20 to 60 years old. Especially women in their 30s and 40s are interested in wagara. Also many foreigners come in during the tourist seasons.
Wafufu uses designs from the beginning of the Showa period (1926-1989). The designs aren’t too old and aren’t formal but colorful and suit modern fashion. Wafufu’s parent company is the kimono shop Yamato. Since kimono don’t sell well now, Yamato thought that they wanted to improve the image of wagara. For example, they don’t use aizome, which is indigo dye, because it has a dark image. They only use colorful designs. They also wanted to create goods that could be used every day.
Open: 11:00 am
Close: 8:00 pm
There are many other wagara shops around Kawaramachi, so please go there and look at those shops. Here are links to other wagara shops in Kyoto:
There are many kinds of wagara designs, and these have became popular again because of the efforts of kimono makers. We hope that wagara fashion will become one way that non-Japanese will grow to appreciate and like Japan.