Japan and its history through the cigarette case scenes Traditional Japanese patterns
Wagara (和柄) are traditional Japanese patterns (文, mon). The most well-known of them takes a single design and turns it into a pattern by systematically applying it to the material. Learning about the names and origins of these patterns leads to understanding that they have long been used for summoning good fortune and for representing wishes for happiness.

Shima (縞)

Shima is the stripe pattern and is the simpliest type of wagara. Due to simplicity of the design many variations of the pattern exist, differing in number of lines, their thickness, colors and separation. Among all the possible combinations, the simplest one, called bō-jima (棒縞), literally meaning "stick stripe", is made of alternating color vertical parallel stripes. Kintsū-jima (金通縞) consists of two parallel vertical lines repeating at a constant, larger than the separation between the lines, distance. The misuji-date (三筋立, "three vertical stripes") is essentially the same as the latter, but with three equally-spaced stripes.

Different variations of the shima pattern.

In komochi-jima (子持縞, "having a child") bō-jima is accompanied by an additional thin line. Ryōkomochi-jima (両子持縞, "having two children") pattern is bō-jima to which two thinner lines are added, one at each side. These patterns are also called "pregnant stripes".

Katsuo-jima (鰹縞) pattern received its name from a katsuo fish (skipjack tuna). The side of this fish's body changes its color from dark shades to light ones.

Left: a cigarette case from the Mitsukoshi company, fully covered with the misuji-date pattern. Here the stripes have a bright color and the separation spaces are dark. Right: a cigarette case from the Fukushima Shoten, with the "mother" (silver) and "child" (gold) lines of the komochi-jima pattern.

Ichimatsu (市松)

Ichimatsu pattern

Ichimatsu is similar to a Gingham pattern, also called a checker pattern, and is a geometric pattern of repeated alternating dark and light squares or rectangles. Ichimatsu has been woven into garments since ancient times but adopted the name "Ichimatsu" only in the 18th century. It was named after the mid-18th century kabuki (歌舞伎) actor, Sanogawa Ichimatsu (佐野川市松, 1722~1762), who used the pattern on his costume hakama. It has been widely used since the middle ages in architectural decoration, gardens, fabrics, dying, lacquerware, and interior decoration. In the Meiji period, this pattern was also called genroku mon-you (元禄文様) and genroku koushi (元禄格子).

A silver cigarette case by Kosuke (康甫). The ichimatsu pattern represents the sky.

Kikkō (亀甲)

Kikkō pattern

The kikkō ("tortoiseshell") pattern is inspired by the hexagonal shape of tortoise shells, an auspicious animal, symbolizing longevity. Originally a Chinese motif, based on Heian Courtly decoration yuusoku mon-you (有職文様), it was Japanized during the Heian (794~1185) period and quickly became very popular in Japan. In the old days, this pattern was used by aristocrats and in mysterious items. The long-living tortoise has traditionally been a symbol of longevity and good fortune, and Samurai's armor was often made up of small hexagons sewed together for this same reason. It also appeared on objects of Buddhist art, lacquerware, and metalwork.

There is a wide number of variations to the Kikkō pattern due to the simplicity of creating tessellations. Consequently, it often has another pattern represented in the center of the hexagon. Flowers form the center of the hexagons in kikkō hanabishi, whereas three hexagons joined together to form the bishamon kikkō pattern. Many other variations of the motif were created, such as: shoukikkō (正亀甲), musubikikkō (結亀甲), kumikikkō (組亀甲), tsunodashi kikkō (角出亀甲), yaburekikkō (破亀甲), mitsukikkō (三亀甲), and hanairi kikkō (花入亀甲).

A cigarette case from the K. Uyeda workshop, fully covered with the kikkō pattern of different materials: silver, copper and shibuichi.

Hyouretsu (氷裂)

Hyouretsu pattern

The Hyouretsu, which means "ice crack", pattern is a pattern divided into large and small irregular triangles, squares, pentagons, and sometimes hexagons, just like cracked ice. It is widely applied to furniture and in architecture, where it is commonly used in window decoration. Examples can be seen in various buildings at Kōfuku-ji (興福寺) in Nagasaki prefecture.

Examples of cracked ice patterns abound in Japanese porcelain. It is also found on fabrics, for example on kimono. Sometimes the pattern stands on its own, with shadings of color and decorative patterns highlighting each block. On Japanese cigarette cases the pattern often appears on silver items, made in a kirihame zogan (切嵌象嵌) technique, where the blocks obtain their colors using silver, copper, shakudo, shibuichi and other copper alloys.

A cigarette case from the Mitsukoshi company, fully covered with hyouretsu pattern.

Sayagata (紗綾形)

Sayagata pattern

Sayagata is a design pattern of interlocking swastikas (卍), called manji (万字) in Japanese. Most sources agree that the term (a contraction of sa-ayagata, meaning gossamer figured-cloth pattern) originated from the type of cloth on which it was most often found. It occurs first perhaps in ancient Indian architecture, but did not enter Japan until the Tensho era (1573~1592) when Chinese fabrics bearing the pattern were first imported in large quality. In the Edo period (1603~1867), it was commonly used on figured satin and combined with designs that featured chrysanthemums, plum blossoms, bamboo, or orchids. It also appeared on the borders of rugs, blankets and tablecloths.

The Sayagata pattern symbolizes positivity and is identified as representing compassion, life, and strength.

A cigarette case from the O. Komai workshop, fully covered with the sayagata pattern. From the collection of Chris Penry.

Asanoha (麻の葉)

Asanoha pattern

Asanoha is a repeating six-sided geometric design that resembles the leaves of the hemp plant, asa (麻). Before cotton was imported to Japan, most textiles were made from hemp. The design has six identical diamonds arranged around a central point. Although used throughout ancient Asia, only in Japan was it said to resemble the hemp plant. The asanoha is found on the clothing of Buddhist statuary of the Heian (794~1185) through Muromachi (1336~1573) periods. This design was particularly popular during the Edo (1603~1867) period, when it was promoted by a Japanese kabuki performer Iwai Hanshirou (1776~1847). In the applied arts it was used in dyeing, weaving, papermaking, wood and metalworking.

The hemp plant is resistant to disease and insects, grows quickly, and does not require much care. Consequently, the asanoha become a symbol of vigor, resistance and healthy growth, and was often used in children's garments to encourage their healthy growth.

A cigarette case (marked "fuku"), with the asanoha pattern background around the matsukawa ("pine bark", 松皮)-shaped frames, contaning the main scenes.

Seigaiha (青海波)

Seigaiha pattern

Seigaiha is a pattern of layered concentric circles creating arches, symbolic of waves or water, hence its English name, "blue sea wave". Seigaiha was originally used in China on ancient maps to depict the sea. In Japan its earliest appearance was on the clothing of a 6th century haniwa (funerary terracotta clay figure). It continued to be used as a symbol on clothing, particularly kimonos, for over a thousand years. Throughout Japan's design history it has been used on kimonos, ceramicware, lacquerware, then later in graphics design.
The pattern represents calm, peace, and quietness, characteristics often associated with the sea.

A cigarette case fully covered with the seigaiha pattern of different materials: silver, copper and shibuichi.

Hishi Seigaiha (菱青海波)

Hishi Seigaiha ("diamond blue sea wave") pattern is a result of a combination between a "diamond" hishi (菱) cell and a "blue sea wave" pattern seigaiha (青海波).

A combination between the hishi "diamond" (left) and seigaiha pattern (middle) gives
the hishi seigaiha pattern (right).

Like seigaiha, the hishi is also related to water. The meaning of hishi is water caltrop, a rhombus-shaped aquatic plant. The plant's seeds can be eaten, and it is known to be very productive, leading them to represent prosperity.

A cigarette case, fully covered with the hishi seigaiha pattern. From the collection of Chris Penry.

Hanabishi (花菱)

Hanabishi pattern

The name hanabishi originates from the arrangement of four hishi-like (water chestnut) leaves as petals into a flower. It grows in small lakes and ponds in Japan.

During the Heian (794~1185) period it was used as a yusoku monyo (traditional design motifs of court nobles) for furnishing goods and costumes of court nobles. It is believed that hanabishi was first used as a family crest by the Takeda clan.

Various patterns are derived from hanabishi, such as ken hanabishi, which is a hanabishi pattern combined with swords; maru ni hanabishi, which is a hanabishi pattern placed in a circular frame; kikko hanabishi, which is a hanabishi pattern placed in a hexagonal frame; and more.

A cigarette case from the O. Komai workshop, fully covered with the hanabishi pattern. Here it is combined with the "double diamond" (nijū hishi, 二重菱) lattice.

Shokkō (蜀江)

Shokkō pattern

Shokkō ("Shu river") is a rich pattern in which octagons and squares are alternately arranged. The name comes from the name of the river that flowed through the capital of Shu Han state (currently Sichuan province) during the Three Kingdoms period in China. A very clean river run through the state of Shu, by which mulberry trees prospered and the silkworms that ate the leaves produced very high quality silk threads that was used to brocade high-quality fabrics. Some of these brocade fabrics crossed the sea to Japan. Thus the people in Japan started calling these brocades shokkō since it came from the river of Shu. The shokkō is also known from Hōryū-ji, the oldest temple in Japan, where it appears on precious objects found there.

The octagons and squares of shokkō pattern are often filled with other elements: plants, animals, flowers. The hanabishi (花菱), chrysanthemum (菊), cherry blossom (桜), plum (梅), bellflower (桔梗), waterclover (田字草) are among the flowers often used in shokkō filling.

The design conveys the meaning of successful marriage and longevity, and is used in hotels and wedding ceremonies.

A cigarette case from the O. Komai workshop, fully covered with the shokkō pattern. Here the octagons are fillied with hanabishi and chrysanthemum flowers, arranged in alternating diagonals, with hanazama filled squares. From Fred Zweig's collection.

Sakura (桜)

Sakura pattern

The cherry blossom, also known as sakura in Japanese, is the emblematic flower of Japan. The cherry blossom marks the beginning of spring and occupies an important place in Japanese culture, to such an extent that there is even a tradition, called hanami, consisting in watching and appreciating the beauty of the cherry blossoms at the time of flowering.

Sakura pattern consists of sakura flowers and its petals, usually not arranged in any geometric lattice. There are numerous variations of the pattern, including "small cherry blossoms" with scattered petals, "weeping cherry" with drooping branches and blossoms, "flower rafts" on flowing water, and many more.

The sakura flower symbolizes softness, kindness and acceptance of the transience of beauty. It also a symbol of beginnings as cherry blossoms bloom at the start of the school year.

A cigarette case from the O. Komai workshop, fully covered with the sakura pattern.

Tsuta (蔦)

Tsuta (ivy) pattern

A rampant, clinging evergreen vine, ivy is a familiar sight in gardens, waste spaces, and wild areas, where it grows on walls, fences, tree trunks, etc. across its native and introduced habitats. As a result of its hardy nature, and its tendency to grow readily without human assistance, ivy attained popularity as an ornamental plant. A similar, but unrelated to true ivy, plant, native to Korea, Japan and China, is called parthenocissus tricuspidata and is commonly known as Boston ivy, grape ivy, and Japanese ivy, and also as Japanese creeper. As a family crest, it is especially favored by samurai families, and is considered as one of the ten major family crests. There are numerous variations of the ivy family crests, ranging from a single ivy leaf to complex compositions of ivy leafs, flowers and wines, combined with other traditional Japanese patterns.

A pattern composed of ivy leaves and vines, called tsuta (蔦) in Japanese, is among the most (if not the most) popular patterns appearing on Nunome Zogan items, especially on cigarette cases. Perhaps, since most of such items were made for export, a motif familiar to foreigners could attract more overseas customers.

The ivy symbolizes fidelity, wedded love, friendship, affection and eternal life.

A cigarette case from the S. Komai workshop, with the ivy pattern background around the main scene frames. Moreover, the frames themselves are made of large ivy stems.

Tsuru (鶴)

Tsuru (cranes) pattern

The Japanese crane is frequently depicted on Japanese fabrics and papers, either realistically or as origami. This large bird has a long neck and long legs. Its feathers are mainly white and the top of its head has a red color. Cranes are very much appreciated in Japan. According to Japanese legend, the person who can fold a thousand cranes in origami will have their wish granted. The Japanese also believe that if a sick person folds 1000 cranes, they will get well again.

There is a famous saying in Japanese, tsuru wa sen-nen, kame wa man-nen (鶴は千年、亀は万年), which means "the crane lives for one-thousand years, the turtle lives for ten-thousand years". 1,000 and 10,000 are lucky numbers in Japanese. Consequently, the crane is a symbol of longevity. It is also a symbol of fidelity and loyalty: being true to the person you love forever.

Tsuru patterns vary in depiction of the cranes. Some show large crane flocks in the sky, some depict dancing cranes on the ground and some catch calm groups of cranes in ponds.

A cigarette case from the Fujii Yoshitoyo company, fully covered with tsuru pattern.