In general, Wagara means a Japanese pattern or design. These traditional and historic designs each have a very specific meaning and are often associated with a specific season or occasion.

Many of these patterns date back thousands of years to as early as the 8th century and are mainly inspired by nature. Originally they would be seen on traditional Japanese clothing including kimono and yakata, but now they are used on modern, non-traditional clothing, homewares, and fashion accessories.

At Olaf Olsson we always try to find a pattern that is rich in traditional Japanese symbolism. We source very specific fabrics from Japan, looking for fabric with meaning and symbolism in each design. Fabric that tells a story.

Below is a list of just a few of these patterns and their meanings.
Aizu Cotton (Tradition Woven Cotton)
Aizu Cotton is a traditional folk art fabric from the Aizu region in Japan. It has a very distinctive, simple stripe pattern that gives it a very unique character. It dates back 400 years to the Tensho Period, when the feudal lord of Aizu, Gamo Ujisato, encouraged the cultivation of cotton in order to promote production. Its simple stripe pattern gives it a unique character.

Asanoha (Hemp Leaves)
The Asanoha pattern is a very popular traditional pattern from Japan. It's based on a hexagon and looks like a hemp leaf. “Asa” means hemp and “ha” means leaf. The hemp plant is a fast-growing plant that produces a tall straight tree in as little as four months and its imagery is associated with growth and children's health. It can also represent protection from harm or evil spirits. This pattern has ‘no season’ and can be worn throughout the year.

Chidori (Plovers)
Chidori, or Plovers, are a migratory bird in Japan. These small birds have to brave ocean waves and strong winds. Because of this, they have become a symbol of strength and perseverance in Japan. Just like these small birds that overcome the largest waves and the strongest winds, the Chidori pattern is meant to encourage victory and achievement of a goal.

Hishi (Diamond)
Hishi is a diamond-shaped pattern that symbolizes vitality and prosperity. The pattern is inspired by the Hishi plant, a fast-growing aquatic plant that grows in Japan. The Hishi plant is diamond-shaped and reproduces very quickly. The plant is also called the "Devil Pod". The Hishi pattern is very old and can be found on pottery dating back to the ancient Jōmon period in Japan.

Ichimatsu (Checkered)
Ichimatsu is a repeating pattern of alternating dark and light squares that represents prosperity of descendants and expansion of business. The meaning derives from the endless nature of the pattern. The pattern is named after the famed Kabuki actor Ichimatsu Sadogawa, who frequently wore the pattern during his performances.

Igeta (a well)
Igeta is a hashtag-shaped grid pattern that represents the wooden frame of a well. As a well is a source of water and life this pattern symbolizes life and good fortune. It is common to find this pattern on traditional Kasuri fabrics and Kimono from Japan.

Kagome (Basket Weave)
Kagome is a hexagonal pattern inspired by a traditional basket weave. This pattern is associated with protection from and driving away evil. Its name is derived from the words kago, meaning "basket", and me, meaning "eye(s)". The "eyes" refers to the holes in a woven basket.

Kame (turtle)
Kame means turtle in Japanese and symbolizes longevity and good luck. Often the turtle will be shown with seaweed on its tail. This is meant to show the advanced age of the animal. The turtle is also the symbol of Kumpira, the god of sailors and the sea.

Kanoko (Fawn)
Kanoko literally means “deer's spots''. This pattern is considered a symbol of wealth and gets its name because it looks like the spotted back of a fawn. Traditionally fabric with this pattern was created by hand using a tie-dyeing technique called Shibori which was extremely labor-intensive, making it very expensive to buy.

Karakusa (Winding Plant)
While the Karakusa pattern originated in China it has become ubiquitous in Japan as a symbol of luck and prosperity. The twisting spirals of the pattern look like vines stretching in all directions. This pattern can also represent legacy or family lineage.

Kikkō Hanabishi (Tortoiseshell)
Kikkō is considered an auspicious pattern in Japan. It represents the upper part of the tortoiseshell with its distinctive hexagonal pattern. Because tortoises are known to live a long time the pattern symbolizes longevity and good fortune. When the pattern has a small flower in the middle of the hexagon it is known as Kikkō Hanabishi. The pattern is also reminiscent of the hexagon-shaped armor plates worn by Samurai warriors of feudal Japan.

Kiku (Chrysanthemum)
The Chrysanthemum, or Kiku in Japanese, is a symbol that represents longevity and rejuvenation. When first introduced to Japan during the Nara period, the Japanese Royal Family was fascinated with the Chrysanthemum. Eventually, during the passing of the years, the Chrysanthemum became the Imperial Family Emblem. Even now, it is used as the imperial symbol of Japan, even appearing on the Japanese passport.

Nami (Wave)
The Nami, or wave, pattern represents strength and is a symbol of the gods of the sea. This pattern often has depictions of churning water or flowing waves. During the Sengoku Era in Japan, it was often used on banners and armor during war.

Sakura (cherry blossom)
Sakura means cherry blossoms in Japanese. A Sakura pattern represents life's ephemerality, much like the short life span of the cherry blossom. It is also a symbol of Spring representing new beginnings and abundance. The cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan.

Seigaiha (Blue Ocean Waves)
In Japan, the Seigaiha pattern symbolizes a desire for continued peaceful living and good luck. Its direct translation is "Blue Ocean Waves". This pattern name has origins in an ancient Japanese court dance called Seigaiha. The dancers would wear costumes with this pattern.

Shippo (Seven Treasures)
The Shippo pattern represents the Seven Treasures in Buddhism which include gold, silver, lapis lazuli, crystal, agate, red pearl, and carnelian. These treasures represent the seven powers of faith, perseverance, sense of shame, avoidance of wrongdoing, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. The Shippo pattern has come to symbolize never-ending harmony and peace.

Tsuru (Crane)
In Japan, the crane, or Tsuru, symbolizes longevity and good fortune. It is often represented along with the tortoise, or Kame in Japanese. The Tsuru pattern was originally only for high-ranking families but has become a popular pattern in modern-day Japan.

Ume (Plum Blossom)
Ume means Plum Blossom in Japanese. An Ume pattern symbolizes resilience and overcoming hardship since the Plum tree blossoms in late winter. This motif is ubiquitous in Japan and can be seen on clothing as well as use in stories and poetry.

Yagasuri (Arrow Feathers)
This pattern depicts the feathers of an arrow or fletching. The pattern symbolizes good luck for weddings and other ceremonies. The meaning comes from an old Japanese saying that once an arrow is shot, it does not return.

April 13, 2020 — Olaf Olsson