The Mark of Beauty : Edo Komon -the Patterns of Edo

By NHK Educational

The Mark of Beauty : NHK Educational

【The Patterns of Edo】PrologueOriginal Source: Takatora shoten

Japanese towel (tenugui)Original Source: Takatora shoten

The traditional designs of Edo remain popular today, including the checkerboard, ocean waves, basketry, and netting patterns.

paper pattern stencil - chrysanthemum blossoms (rangiku)Original Source: Komiya dyeing factory

Point 1 — Repetition

One characteristic of the patterns of Edo is the repetition of a single pattern.  Endless rows of chrysanthemum blossoms. Though the orientation might change, the form and shape comprise a single pattern.

【The Patterns of Edo】RepetitionOriginal Source: Daimatsu dyeing factory

"Iwakimasuya maeno nigiwai" ©TOBACCO & SALT MUSEUM by Eizan KikukawaOriginal Source: TOBACCO & SALT MUSEUM

Point 2 — The playful spirit of Edoites

An ukiyoe print depicts the bustle in front of a garment textile emporium in Edo (present day Tokyo).  The technique of stencil dyeing developed during the Edo period (1603–1868), during which time makers competed over the most innovative designs.

Roll of Cloth (tanmono)Original Source: Ichie, Saotome dyeing factory

The meticulous but whimsical ethos of these Edoites can be seen in their komon (fine patterns).  Edo komon textiles look almost like solid colors from far away, but when viewed up close, they reveal countless tiny dots and shapes.

KimonoOriginal Source: Saotome dyeing factory

A checkered kimono with rows of small squares in two colors.

KimonoOriginal Source: Saotome dyeing factory

If you look carefully, you see that the small squares are actually comprises of numerous tiny dots. 

paper pattern stencil - Beauty of Japanese nature (kacho-fugetsu)Original Source: Komiya dyeing factory

A pattern made up of countless fine dots. When you look closely, you see that these dots actually form the Chinese characters meaning "flowers, birds, wind, and moon"—referring to the beauties of nature.

【The Patterns of Edo】Fine patternOriginal Source: Saotome dyeing factory

paper pattern stencil - cherry blossom pedal (kozakura)Original Source: Komiya dyeing factory

Endless rows of fine dots. When you look closely, you see that ... each is a cherry blossom pedal.  The meticulous character of the people of Edo gave rise to the tiny, intricate patterns known as komon.

paper pattern stencilOriginal Source: Komiya dyeing factory

branded jacket (shirushi hanten)NHK Educational

Point 3 — Stencils that express particular professions or brands

Over time, Edo komon textiles became integrated into the daily lives of the Edo populace. Edoites began insisting on wearing the same pattern as their colleagues to increase their sense of camaraderie.

branded jacket (shirushi hanten)NHK Educational

At Edo festivals, matching clothing was essential.

branded jacket (shirushi hanten)Original Source: Saotome dyeing factory

A jacket with a particular profession or the name of a store ledt in undyed reserve is called a shirushi hanten (branded jacket).

【The Patterns of Edo】Branded JacketNHK Educational

branded jacket (shirushi hanten)Original Source: Takatora shoten

Edo komon patterns embody the spirit of Edoites.

Credits: Story

Takatora shoten
Komiya dyeing factory
Daimatsu dyeing factory
Saotome dyeing factory

Photography by Tadayuki Minamoto

Music by Kazuki Sugawara

Supervised by
Maezaki Shinya, Associate Professor, Kyoto Women's University
M. Rinne, Kyoto National Museum

Produced by NHK Educational Corporation


Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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