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What Is the Meaning of Color in Japanese Culture?

Updated November 21, 2016

Japanese society has long-standing traditions that have shaped the Japanese for millennia. Colours have symbolic associations that appear in Japanese art, dress and rituals, and many have maintained those meanings even as Japanese society rapidly changes. Drawing inspiration from nature and historical texts, Japanese colour symbolism helps others identify the emotional state or desires of those wearing certain colours.

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Black

Black is a powerful and foreboding colour 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 colour of formality, and has increasingly come to represent elegance, with the growing popularity of Western conceptions of black tie events.

White

White has been an auspicious colour in Japan for much of its history. White represents purity and cleanliness in traditional Japanese society, and is seen as a blessed colour. Because of the sacred nature of the colour, white is the colour of weddings and other joyful life events, and appears on the Japanese flag.

Red

Red is a powerful colour in traditional Japanese society, representing strong emotions rather than ideas. As the colour of the sun in Japanese culture and on the Japanese flag, red is the colour of energy, vitality, heat, and power. Red also represents love and intimacy, including sexual desire and the life force and energy in people.

Blue

Blue is also a colour 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 colour, and so, in combination with the association with purity and cleanliness, blue is often the colour young women wear to show their purity.

Green

Green is the colour of fertility and growth in traditional Japanese culture. As the colour of nature, the Japanese word for green, midori, is also the word for vegetation. In addition, the colour 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.

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About the Author

Cassandra Mathers has been writing for eHow since 2009. She graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College, earning a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and anthropology. She also holds an M.A. in political science from the University of London and is finishing her Ph.D. in Islamic anthropology. She specializes in religion, politics, culture and Islam.

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