Japanese Colour Meanings

Japanese colour meanings shown on Temari Balls

One of the symbolisms of giving Temaris as gifts is that they represent brilliance because of their colours, wishing the recipient a brilliant life also the joy of Temari balls is their great use of colors, they use traditional colour combinations for the  Japanese Temari and in Japanese culture. Compared to our colour combinations Japanese Temaris use different colours. Sue H. says: Chrysanthemums are a favorite flower for the Japanese.  In general, they prefer flowers that drop their petals one by one, rather than fall off in one clump.  That is why the rose is not popular, and even considered bad luck.  Sakura (cherry blossoms), daisies, plum blossoms are greatly admired.  Something with many petals can also be related to many years of life (long life) which is another “good fortune” wish.


Red and White are good luck colours, mostly used for, special occasions for example weddings and births.

Blue and white are also popular in Japanese culture used in fabrics and dishware. Yukata is a blue and white cotton fabric used to make summer kimonos.

The colour list below is referenced to Liza Dalby’s book “Geisha”, about her study of Japanese geisha life.  The layering of colours for kimono and their surface decoration vary with the season and even the month. Apparently, as ceremonial kimono are very expensive, only geisha follow the tradition of changing colours for each month. This is one list of colours from a traditional school of Japanese etiquette.

  • January   Pine:   sprout green and deep purple
  • February   Redblossom plum:    crimson and purple
  • March    Peach:   peach and khaki
  • April    Cherry:    white and burgundy
  • May    Orange Flower:   deadleaf yellow and purple
  • June    Artemesia:   sprout green and yellow
  • July    Lily:    red and deadleaf yellow
  • August    Cicada wing:    cedar bark and sky blue
  • September    Aster:    lavender and burgundy
  • October    Bush Clover:    rose and slate blue
  • November    Maple:    vermilion and grey-green
  • December    Chrysanthemum:    lavender and deep blue



Black is the colour of the night, and of “evil.”  Black can also be a colour of elegance or class (such as a black-tie only event, and black evening gowns.)  Black can also represent ideas such as power, sexuality, sophistication, formality, wealth, mystery, fear, evil, unhappiness, depth, style, sadness, remorse, anger, and mourning.  Black can also represent a lack of colour, the primordial void, emptiness. It can also mean sorrow or mourning, in the Christian tradition of wearing black to funerals.

According to Henry Dreyfus, Black, sumi, is the colour of mystery and solemnity; the colour of the night. Black expresses the depths of the unknown, and encourages the imagination of a different world from that of daylight realities. Used by itself, black can represent bad luck or misfortune.


Black and white stands for mourning and cheerless occasions.  For example, traditional garb for a funeral is black and white.  Black for the loss, and white for their passing onto the heavens.


Blue is the colour of the Virgin Mary, and is associated with girls who have similar pure qualities. In addition, it is the colour of water and the sea, with all the symbolic references already discussed for that element – that is, blue usually indicates femininity, life, purity, etc., just as water does.

Blue can also symbolize peace, calm, stability, security, loyalty, sky, water, cold, technology, and depression.

According to Henry Dreyfus, indigo blue, ai, mirrors the colour of the vast ocean surrounding the Japanese islands. This shade of blue is very commonly seen in Japanese art and clothing.


Brown represents the ideas of earth, hearth, home, the outdoors, comfort, endurance, simplicity, and comfort.


According to Henry Dreyfus, gold, kin, can evoke the sensation of looking upon waving fields of ripened rice stalks. Gold is also associated with royalty. It represents the colour of the heavens, and is used to decorate statues of the Buddha and religious temples.


Green can represent nature, the environment, good luck, youth, vigor, jealousy, envy, and misfortune.

According to Henry Dreyfus, green, midori is regarded as the color of eternal life, as seen in evergreens which never change their colour from season to season. In the word midori, both trees and vegetation are implied. One characteristic of Japanese culture can be found in the fusion of life and nature.


Orange can represent energy, balance, warmth, enthusiasm, flamboyant, and demanding of attention.


The colour pink usually serves two purposes.  It can be used to show childish innocence, or a characters child-like personality.  For example, Mami (the girl at the top of the page with the pink hair), very much wants to remain a child.  She gets pleasure out of very simple, and ‘childish’ things.  So, her hair is pink.  Even so, Miho-chan also would like to grow up and become an adult woman… but she’s also afraid of losing her childhood innocence.  It can also be used to show a more flirtatious personality.  Pink is normally a color associated with girls and femininity.

Pink is considered a colour of good health and life – we speak of people being “in the pink” or the “freshness” of a newborn babe.

Lastly, pink is associated with sexuality, and purity.  That is, a girl who is a virgin in heart and body. Pink is symbolic of pure love, for example.  It is also the color used for sexual advertisements and such, to indicate the purity of the girls.


Purple can represent royalty, spirituality, nobility, ceremony, mysterious, wisdom, enlightenment, cruelty, arrogance, and mourning.


Red can symbolize many things; from blood, to love, to infatuation.  Basically red symbolizes strong emotions, or things of strong emotions rather than intellectual ideas.  For example, red can symbolize excitement, energy, speed, strength, danger, passion, and aggression.

According to Henry Dreyfus, it is popularly felt that red, the color of blood and fire, represents life and vitality. Red also signifies the color of the sun: a symbol of energy, radiating its vitalizing life-force into human beings. Red is also looked upon as a sensual color, and can be associated with man’s most profound urges and impulses.  Ironically, red cats symbolize bad luck.


According to Henry Dreyfus, the word for red and white, Kohaku, is pronounced as one word in Japanese. Ko means red, while haku translates as white. Their use together immediately signifies happiness and celebration to the Japanese viewer. The combination of red and white in the decorative ornaments used on wedding or engagement presents –noshi or kaishi– has a compelling quality that suggests man’s urge to create a bond between his own life and that of the gods.  Red and white are also the colours of the uniforms that shrine maidens wear (denoting these colors divine nature.)

Red and white are the colours of the Japanese flag; the red signifies the sun.


Silver/Grey symbolizes security, reliability, intelligence, staid, modesty, maturity, conservative, old age, sadness, and boring.


White is a sacred and pure colour.  It’s the colour of angles and gods, as the colour reflects that which is sacred and pure.   It is also the colour of doctors, nurses, and others in the health profession, as well as cleanliness. In fact, the Japanese refer to nurses as “Angels in White”.

White can also represent reverence, purity, simplicity, peach, humility, youth, winter, snow, good, cold, clinical, and sterile.


Yellow can symbolize joy, happiness, optimism, idealism, gold, dishonesty, cowardice, deceit, illness, and hazard.


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