Japanese Patterns

Every spring, I take a 1-2 week trip to Japan, the place where I grew up. I’ve come to appreciate my culture more deeply as I spend more and more time outside of Japan. This makes me wish that I paid more attention while I lived there, but I was too young and busy.

I just came back from my annual trip to Japan. This was the first trip since I started exploring the world of Zentangle, and it helped me to understand some of the reasons why I feel drawn to Zentangle designs.

Simple and beautiful patterns can be found everywhere in Japan. We call them Komon (pronounced like “common”) and it literally means “small patterns”.  They have been used on kimono fabrics and buildings for many centuries. As a traditional Japanese dance instructor, my grandmother often wore kimono and I remember some of them had simple geometric patterns much like we see in Zentangle.

One of the many attributes that foreigners praise about Japan is how we harmoniously mix something traditional with something very modern.

Here’s one example I saw by an escalator going up to the top floor of one of the newest department store buildings in Osaka.

These wooden panels are a modern application of a traditional Japanese architectural method. In order to bring more light into a room, carved wood panels (called “ranma”, shown in the image below) were installed in the upper part of the wall.

These panels are no longer used in modern Japanese houses but they are still available if you are willing to pay a small fortune for it. I happened to meet a 5th generation carpenter who takes custom wooden panel orders. He showed me a picture of huge hand carved panel that he’s been working on for about 10 months. I can’t remember the exact size of his project, but the panel itself is more expensive than my house! I guess if you can afford to buy a house that’s big enough to install it in a single wall in Japan, cost is not an issue…

For me, I settled with a couple of small wooden coasters from him. These are laser printed / cut to keep the price affordable, but nonetheless beautiful. If you are familiar with Zentangle patterns, you’ll see some very familiar designs on them like Crescent Moon and Keeko. But these are all traditional Japanese Komon patterns that have been used in Japan for centuries.

One of the Komon patterns that I saw in many different places throughout this trip is called Asanoha. I saw it on purses, tv show sets, coasters and even on bottled water!

I’m inspired to incorporate these traditional designs into my Zentangle practice.

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