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Monday, March 21, 2016

Colors Of Japan

I don't even know why I am still surprised with what I learn about Japan, but I am.

Japan has always liked order, and has quietly gone about its business to provide rules to ensure its sheeple, I mean people know the proper way to do this or to do that… and for the most part, these rules create order and harmony.

Things are so second-nature to the Japanese, that when a dumb foreigner like myself would casually ask WHY they do things a certain way, he would be offered up, a head tilt to the shoulder, a light sucking of air in through the teeth, a scratch on the head and maybe even a shrug. Sometimes, as if to nail the point home, his Japanese friends and co-workers would utter, that they don't know, but that they think it's merely something they have always done.

That, dear reader, is a job well-done by the Japanese authorities. No one even questions why, and thus no one need get upset and go all anarchy.

It's not my place to criticize Japan for the way it is. But, I can offer a critique when I dig up some interesting tidbit.

Colors. Colours. Iro. 色.

I have a schizophrenic uncle who once believed that the television was giving him orders, and that when different colors were mentioned, it meant certain things.

Well they do... Japan has known about colors for a long, long time. They, like many a historical nation, has used colors to denote rank.

Historically in Japan, back in 603AD - yes, 1,413 years ago, Japanese prince Shōtoku (聖徳太子 Shōtoku Taishi) helped create the Twelve Level Cap and Rank System (冠位十二階 Kan'i Jūnikai) - the first of many cap and rank systems in Japan.

This new system (which only lasted until 647AD), was a system involving one's rank in the hierarchy of the Japanese world.

Previously, one's rank was based on heredity, meaning born a mere envoy, die a mere envoy. But the Twelve Level Cap and Rank System meant that one could be promoted up (and I assume down) a level depending on one's merit and achievement.

Look… it was still a ranking or government officials and aristocracy (because they always held government positions)… so… born a farmer, die a farmer…

There are 12 levels in this new hierarchy, with a greater and a lesser of each of the six ranks.

These six ranks are based on the Confucian virtues of:
virtue (徳 took);
benevolence (仁, jin);
propriety (礼, rei);
sincerity (信, shin);
justice (義, gi);
knowledge (智, chi).

Each rank came with its own color designation for robes and caps, while each of the 12 levels had its own official name.

Yoshimura, Takehiko: 'Kodai Ōken no Tenkai (古代王権の展開)', p. 126. Shūeisha, 1999.

So… rank and social hierarchy is shown by color - not that different when we associate purple with royalty in so many other cultures.

The point is… you have to wear colors afforded your rank. If you had no such rank, those colors were forbidden to wear for everyday use. These forbidden colors are/were known as kinjiki (禁色).

Colors that were permissible - yurushiro (許し色) are all those that the commoner could wear.

Traditionally, however, there are certain colors that the regular Japanese people wore, and truth be told, they are very drab colors.

Hmmm… is that fair, though? A flair for color was hardly the norm in the past - regards of the country.

Heck… just look at men's fashion. If you had a suit, it was grey, black or navy blue. Heck, you should have seen the looks I had when I wore a teal sports jacket in Toronto and Tokyo… and that red silk jacket - outrageous!

Of course, a mere 20 years earlier, thanks to the psychedelic era, color was all the rage. Before that, it was dullsville, man.

In Japan… they had color, but for the most part, it was soft color. 


Red-Violet series

Red series

Yellow Red series

Yellow series

Yellow Green series

Green/Blue Green series

Blue/Blue Violet series

Violet series

Achromatic series

My favorite is Dobunezumi - brown rat grey.

"Do you like it?"
"Oh yeah! It really brings out the mange!"

Andrew Joseph


  1. Replies
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