About the Color Shuiro: Japanese Conception of Red - Is Red the Color of Love?

February 08, 2017 Yoko Lewis

Shrine Torii (gate); source - David Klapp, Photolibrary , japanese.about.com
Above Source: David Klapp, Photolibrary (japanese.about.com)

shuiro (vermillion) shibori Japanese fabric, yokodana no.5253

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Here at YokoDana Kimono we often are tasked with coming up with English color labels for the seemingly infinite array of colors in Japanese kimonos and fabrics which we post on our site. This is especially challenging when it comes to the many shades of red used In traditional Japanese arts. Perhaps the most famous red is shuiro, translated as vermillion. Shuiro is seen on the Torii gates leading to shrines in Japan (above, top picture), and also in various types of kimonos, often as fringe or border, as well as in higher-end nagajuban (under-kimono) and uchikake (most formal wedding kimono) liners , bottom fringes and sleeves. In the tradtional belief the color Shuiro is said to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. It also connotes higher status --Important in traditional feudal Japan, and even into the modern period.

So we were delighted when we came across an article in the Japanese (English version) of about.com's discussion of the many uses and types of red in Japanese culture and arts. (There is a Japanese language chart of reds here.)

The article, Japanese Conception of Red - Is Red the Color of Love? , nicely explains the most common types of red, both in describing items, but also in the common parlance. It starts this way:

Red is generally called "aka (赤)" in Japanese. There are many traditional shades of red. The Japanese gave each shade of red its own elegant name in the old days. Shuiro (vermilion), akaneiro (madder red), enji (dark red), karakurenai (crimson) and hiiro (scarlet) are among of them.

The Japanese especially love the red that is obtained from safflower (benibana), and it was very popular in the Heian period (794-1185). Some of the beautiful clothing that were dyed with safflower red are well-preserved in the Shousouin at Todaiji Temple, more than 1200 years later. Safflower dyes were also used as lipstick and rouge by court ladies. At Horyuji Temple, the world's oldest wooden buildings, their walls were all painted with shuiiro (vermillion). Many torii (Shinto shrine archways) are also painted this color.

It continues later in the piece with this listing of even more types of red:

"Sekihan (赤飯)" literally means, "red rice." It is also a dish that is served on auspicious occasions. The red color of the rice makes for a festive mood. The color is from red beans cooked with rice. A Baby is called "akachan (赤ちゃん)" or "akanbou (赤ん坊)." The word came from a baby's red face. "Aka-chouchin (赤提灯)" literally means, "red lantern." They refer to traditional bars that you can cheaply eat and drink at. They are usually located on the side streets in busy urban areas, and often have a red lantern lit out front. Here are some other expressions including the word red. The connotations of red in Japanese include "complete" or "clear" such expressions as "akahadaka (赤裸)," "aka no tanin (赤の他人)," "makkana uso (真っ赤なうそ)." The interesting thing is that it is black that has the connotation of completeness (e.g. a black lie) in English.
To read the whole article please click | touch:Japanese Conception of Red - Is Red the Color of Love?

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