Kimono and the Colors of Japan

Kimono and the Colors of Japan
ISBN 4894444518 link link link

Topic Discussion on Immortal Geisha Forums:
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Book Breakdown:
The first volume in a current set of three, this book contains beautiful full page photographs of many gorgeous kimono and obi from the collection of Katsumi Yumioka (弓岡勝美). These kimono date back to Edo era, but with a large majority of them seemingly from around Taisho/Showa.

The book is broken down into rougly 9 sections with “combination of colours” between each. The author states in his introduction that the organization of the categories have been done based on “Japanese Korkoro no Iro” – colours of the Japanese heart, using kimono or obi of specific colours to present to the readers an image of what Japanese people find individual colours to express or signify.

Each colour is devoted to it’s own two page spread. One side has text both in Japanese and English and the other side has a full page photograph of a kimono or obi with the predominate colour being the one in question. The text while short, is surprisingly informative, providing us with the name of the colour in Japanese, the meaning and history behind the colour and how the colour creation is achieved. On some pages, it goes even further and provides details of the pattern on the example kimono or obi.

Below is a list of the colours represented in this book.


Red – pages 11-27
Poppy Red
French Vermilion (page scan and excerpt below)
Persimmon Red
Rose Red
Raspberry Red
Combination of Colours – pages 28-37

Green – pages 39 – 55
Parrot Green
Mist Green (page scan and excerpt below)
Jade Green
Light Lime Green
Blue Conifer
Eggshell Green
Spruce Green
Jewel Green
Combination of Colours – pages 56-65

Pink – 67-83
Coral Pink
Cherry Pink (page scan and excerpt below)
Cupid Pink
Azalea Pink
Very Pale Orchid Pink
Tree Peony Pink
Fuchsia Pink
Rose Pink
Combination of Colours – pages 84-93

Blue – pages 95-111
Cerulean Blue
Sapphire Blue
Marine Blue (page scan and excerpt below)
Cyan Blue
Cobalt Blue
Blue Turquoise
Salvia Blue
Horizon Blue
Combination of Colours – pages 112 – 121

Brown – pages 123-139
Brick Red (page scan and excerpt below)
Sand Beige
Dusty Olive
Copper Rust
Garnet Brown
Coconut Brown
Van Dyke Brown
Combination of Colours – pages 140-149

Purple – pages 151-167
Fuchsia Purple
Deep Royal Purple
Blackish Purple
Purple Navy
Dusty Purple
Iris (page scan and excerpt below)
Combination of Colours – pages 168-177

Yellow – pages 179-189
Chartreuse Yellow
Lemon Yellow (page scan and excerpt below)
Combination of Colours 190-195

Black & White pages 197-207
Lamp Black
Snow White
Charcoal Gray
Pearl Gray
Dark Slate
Combination of Colours 208-217

Gold & Silver – pages 219-223
Combination of Colours pages 224-227

My Opinion:
I seriously cannot say enough good things about this book – to me, it is worth more than it’s weight in gold and any one remotely serious in the collecting of kimono or Japanese textiles would be wise to have this book on their shelves. Personally, what I love most about this book aside from the stunning garments is that not only does it name colours and explain exactly how it is different to a shade that appears very similar, it also contains a lot of very interesting tidbits in regards to history and literature, for example:

“Rikyucha (Dusty Olive): a light brown with a hint of green. This color is claimed to be the favorite of the eminent Muromachi-Momoyama period tea master Sen’norikyu (1522-91). Interestingly, rikyucha as the name of a color (rikyu indicating the famed tea master and cha meaning tea) didn’t appear in literature until after Sen’norikyu’s death, around the middle of the Edo period. The theory is that kimono merchants borrowed Sen’norikyu’s name, postmortem, to create a new trend from an old shade. Indeed, most shades tinted with green during this period were dubbed with the prefix rikyu, and many new hues were consequently fashioned, such as rikyu-shiracha (greenish light brown) and rikyu-nezumi (greenish gray).”

I never tire of sitting down reading this book and always find something new I missed the previous time.

– Anyone with a remotely serious interest in kimono and Japanese textiles.
– Those who collect vintage kimono, in particular.

Not Recommend:
– Someone looking for a step by step kitsuke book. This book has no kitsuke instructions (but it’s still a good book to have!)
– Someone looking for a step by step style book. While you could use this book to see your mind with colour inspiration, it is not a style book in the least (but once again, it is still a good book to have!)

Page Examples and Excerpts:

French Vermilion

“Hi-iro: a strong hue of red dyed with a blend of madder and lye. This color is dyed in the same manner as the deep vermilion seen in the crest of Emperor Kotoku or the two shades of vermilion in the crest of Emperor Jito of the Asuka period (592-645). Military commanders favored this color for its striking tone, the Akazonae Corps of Takeda’s Army was particularly well known for their use of French Vermilion. The difficulties of dying with madder were solved during the Edo period (1603-1867) by bottoming the material with yellow from the gardenia, then dying with raspberry red, resulting in the rich French.”

Mist Green

“Yanagi-iro: a soft yellow-green, conveying the verdant hue we see between March and April when the willow tree buds appear. The nobility especially loved the flitting, fragile sight of the willow tree blowing in a spring breeze, a popular feature of many court stories such as Manyoshu and The Tale of Genji. Mist Green is often described in literature for fabrics woven with parrot green and white threads.”

Cherry Pink

“Nakabeni: a vivid crimson tinted with purple, dyed in katabeni or a reduced amount of safflower dye. In Japanese, this hue is also called nakamomi, referring to the process of massaging the safflower to bring out this unique shade. Beni has been used to describe crimson hues since the Middle Ages, yet the name kurenai was appointed in ancient times. Interestingly, the shades differ within the two time periods when the Japanese prefix for “medium” (naka) is added. Naka-beni in the Middle Ages is a much more vibrant yet delicate red than naka-kurenai of ancient times.”

Marine Blue

“Ai-Iro: The word ai is the standard Japanese term for the well-known indigo pigment found in stems and leaves of the indigo plant (polygonacede family.) However, this traditional indigo hue is not the renowned pure blue resulting from the single-stage dying, rather a blueish-green with a yellow tint. The pure deep blue was not called “indigo blue” until after the Edo period. In fact during the Edo period, due to the liberal use of deep indigo blue in tenugui (thin cotton hand towels) and noren (shop curtains) and in paintings by Japanese artist such as Hiroshige Utagawa, this shade became known as “Japan Blue” in many other countries.”

Brick Red

“Suzume-cha: a brown with reddish-black tints, similar to the color of a sparrow’s head. A well-loved bird from long ago, sparrow became an Edo-period suffix indicating a connoisseur, as in “Yoshiwara sparrow”, a frequenter of the red light district. Although suzume-cha is also used for a slightly redder brown, the distinction is very vague. The dye is noted as early as the Zhou period (11th century to 256 BC) in China, yet not mentioned in Japan until the Meiji Period.”


“Shobu-iro: a purple tinged with a brilliant blue, named after the petals of the iris, a plant always found by the water’s edge. Iris, both the color and the flower, are also called ayame and hanashobu in Japanese. Originally, iris was produced as a double color with either a blue front and a crimson-plum back or a light green front and a deep crimson-plum back. However, this particular shade was created using the spadix found between the iris leaves. The iris color we know today was established during the second half of the Edo period.”

Lemon Yellow

“Kihada: a bright yellow-green lightly tinted with blue. The pigment is taken from the inner bark of the mandarin orange tree that grows wild in the mountains. The extracted liquid is combined with lye to create a dye. Highly valued for medicinal purposes since long ago; the extract is boiled down to create a stomach remedy called daranisuke. In addition, the extract was used since the Asuka period (592-645) to dye scrolls used for copying sutras, serving as a natural insect repellent.”

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