Tokyo Olympics 2020 Emblems

Did you notice the emblems from the Tokyo Olympics 2020? The deep blue and white checkered pattern was called “harmonized chequers emblems.” It appears to be a very modern design, but actually has strong influences from Japanese tradition. 

Did you know that a checkered pattern is used in traditional Japanese design? Maybe you’ve seen the Japanese anime “Demon Slayer” and have seen how the main character, Tanjirou, wears a green and black checkered jacket?

Ichimatsu pattern with green and black colors

We call this checker pattern “Ichimatsu pattern.” It is named after a handsome kabuki actor from ancient Tokyo, which was named “Edo” about 300 years ago. Ichimatsu Sanogawa wore a hakama (a kind of loose-fitting trousers) with a checkered pattern on stage once, and his pants were a huge hit. From then, people started calling it the “Ichimatsu pattern.” 

An image of a Kabuki actor
Hakama (a kind of loose-fitting trousers)

Prior to Ichimatsu, the pattern was called the “stone path.” The squares repeating continuously symbolizes eternity, a prosperous family, and a business expansion. We consider this pattern to bring good fortune. We use it for gifts, and some families use it in their family emblems. (Yes, Japanese families have traditional emblems!)

Some popular Japanese family emblems

The Tokyo emblems also have another traditional meaning. Its deep blue is called “Ai” in Japanese, which can mean indigo. Cloth dyed in indigo becomes antibacterial, odor eliminating, insect proof, and flame resistant. Because of its many useful properties, it was used widely in daily life—as well as the uniforms of the Edo firefighters. Indigo is sometimes used to represent Japan, and people call it “Japan Blue.” 

Kendo (Japanese style fencing) also uses Ai (indigo)
Edo firefighters

This deep blue color is also called “Kachi-iro.” The sound of “kachi” means victory, so samurai wished for victory by wearing deep blue clothes. By the way, Japan’s national soccer team uses it as their team color, and are called “Samurai Japan.”

This post ended up being a bit different from my normal blog post, but I really wanted to share with you how the 2020 Olympics emblem design represents Japan—particularly Tokyo. Kabuki, woodblock printing, the indigo-wearing samurai and the city’s firefighters, are all closely associated with Edo, ancient Tokyo.

“The Great Wave off Kanagawa” by Hokusai Katsushika

I hope you enjoyed this article.

If you are interested in Japanese family emblems, here is a link to “Kamon no Iroha” which means “ABC’s of Japanese family emblems.” This site is in Japanese but you can still enjoy looking at them.

And about Japanese traditional patterns, here is a link to “Dentou Monyou” which means “Traditional (Japanese) Patterns.” This site has English translations.

Hanabi, Fireworks

Summer is here, and one of the most important things about summer in Japan is hanabi! Hanabi means “fireworks” in Japanese. It is written using the characters for “flower” and “fire.” We enjoy watching fireworks at summer festivals, and having fun with sparklers with family and friends.

I love watching fireworks. From a closer distance, it’s a more sensory experience. The boom of the explosion, the sudden brightness, vivid colors, smoke, and crackles as the sparks spread across the night sky! Even the silence takes on a presence once the show comes to an end. 

From far away, the delay between color and sound is like lightning and thunder. The fireworks are smaller, but they blend together with the scenery to highlight the landscape. I think it’s yet another way to enjoy them.

So today, I would like to write about Japanese fireworks.


In Japan, summer fireworks have a deeper meaning than just entertainment. The “Bon” holiday happens in the middle of August. We believe that departed souls return to their family during this holiday, so we build a fire as a beacon to guide their souls back to this world. Once Bon is over, we send them off with prayers as they return to the afterlife. Some people say that fireworks serve this same purpose. There is a story of one shogun who sent off the souls of those who lost their lives to disease and famine with a fireworks display.

Japanese Fireworks

Aesthetically, Japanese appreciate fireworks’ homogeneousness and symmetricalness, so many Japanese fireworks are round like chrysanthemums and peonies. Firework artisans place immense importance on creating round, homogeneous “hoshi.” In Japanese, “hoshi” usually means star, but here it’s used for the explosive parts of the firework. Setting expertly crafted hoshi around a sphere creates a beautiful, flowerlike pattern that is appreciated not only for its colors, but as an expression of the artisan’s skill.

Here is a video from YouTube about Japanese fireworks making. It is in Japanese but you can still see how Japanese fireworks are made, as well as the artisan’s skill. If you watch it, pay particular attention to their motions, as they have honed their technique for years. You can also turn on Youtube’s translations in your language if you’d like.

Fireworks Festivals

During summer, especially July and August, there is a fireworks festival every weekend somewhere in Japan. Many people attend wearing yukata, traditional Japanese clothing for summer. (A yukata is like a thin kimono.) Fireworks festivals usually have many stands with food and games, so you will see people wearing yukata waiting in line for treats like shaved ice, one of the more popular festival eats.

In Japan, people can sponsor fireworks. They “buy the rights” to an individual or a group of fireworks, and an announcer reads a message when they are launched. Some people use them to show their gratitudes to loved ones. Some festivals are even competitions where fireworks artisans compete with each other to create the best display. 

Many festivals have been cancelled recently because of the pandemic. However, if you have a chance to visit Japan in the future, visiting a fireworks festival will be a great experience. Don’t miss the chance to wear a yukata, either!

Tanabata, the Star Festival

Every July 7th is the Star Festival, called “Tanabata” in Japan. The original story came from China and arrived in Japan during the Nara era (710 – 794). 

The story is like this:

A long time ago, there was a girl named Orihime, a daughter of one of the gods and a very good weaver. Her father was searching for a husband for her, and found a boy  named Hikoboshi, a cattle herder. 

They fell in love and got married. However, they became lazy after the marriage and did not work at all. Orihime’s father became furious about their complacency and set each on either side of the Milky Way as punishment. The pair was heartbroken and wept constantly. Feeling compassion for them, Orihime’s father gave the couple permission to see each other once a year on July 7th at night. 

But, it is said that they cannot meet if it rains, so we always wish for no clouds in the sky. 

There is a Japanese tradition of making decorations and putting them on bamboo branches for Tanabata. People also write their wishes on colorful rectangle papers and set them on the bamboo along with the decorations. Because Orihime was good at weaving, people usually wish to become skilled at something.

Bamboo is important for Tanabata, so today I would like to share how to make bamboo leaves with Tsumami-zaiku. 

By the way, bamboo is a very important plant for Japanese culture in general, not just on (hopefully) starry holidays. It is a bringer of good luck, along with plum and pine plants. We use it with many things like crafts and tools. Bamboo shoots are also a seasonal food eaten in spring.

How to Make Bamboo Leaves

It is very easy!

You will need:

  • three 1 inch (2.5cm) square cloth (green)
  • one ¾ inch (1.9 cm) round paper disc (thick paper is better)
  • glue
  • tweezers (You don’t need tweezers, but it’s much easier with them)
  • wet paper towels for cleaning your fingers

How to make:

1.Make three leaves from the green 1 inch square cloths with Maru-tsumami. (“How to make Maru-tsumami” link here.)

2. Cut the round paper disc into quarters.

3. Glue the bottom of the leaves and place them on the quarter paper disc. This time, place the round side of the leaf up.

4. Reshape the flower before the glue dries.

5. Let it dry completely.

6. Done!

You can make it with two-fold Maru-tsumami too (“How to make twofold Maru-tsumami” is in “Risshun, The First Day of Spring” page).

“Risshun,” The First Day of Spring

Japan now uses the 12 month Gregorian calendar like the West, but that doesn’t mean our older, more traditional calendars aren’t still extremely important. We inherited the Chinese lunar calendar long ago, and the date of certain special events are still determined by the monthly phases of the moon.

But because the moon’s phases average only about 29 days, we used another Chinese calendar to keep track of the seasons. In Japan, we call it the “Nijushi sekki.” It’s based on the solar cycles, and under it, the first day of spring is called “Risshun.”

Risshun falls on February 3rd this year. Hearing “Risshun” makes Japanese feel like “spring is coming” even though it’s still very cold outside. Around this time, the “ume,” or the Japanese plum flower, also starts blooming. Like I mentioned in another post, ume flowers herald the arrival of spring. (The post about Japanese plum “Ume” is here.)

So in honor of the coming spring, I’m going to show you how to make a twofold Maru-tsumami (how to make single Maru-tsumami is here) so you can make your own ume blossom!

How to make a twofold Ume

You will need:

  • five 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) red square cloths
  • five 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) white square cloths
  • one 1 inch (2.5 cm) round paper disc (thick paper is better)
  • craft flower stamens to decorate the center of the flower
  • glue
  • tweezers (You don’t need tweezers, but it’s much easier with them)
  • wet paper towels for cleaning your fingers


  1. Making a twofold Maru-tsumami

a) First, make a triangle by folding a white square cloth half.

b) Then, fold it in half again to make a smaller triangle. Put aside.

c) Repeat 1 and 2 with a red square cloth.

d) Between the creases of the red cloth, put the white cloth triangle you made just a little bit outside.

e) Fold them in half again, but both ways this time.

f) Glue at the bottom part. You just need a dab.

g) Wait until the glue dries. (It doesn’t need to be completely dry, just enough to keep its shape.)

h) Shape the top round part to make a petal.

2. Make the other 4 petals with twofold Maru-tsumami method.

3. Put glue on the round paper disc and place the petals you made evenly towards the center.

4. Reshape the flower.

5. Let the glue completely dry.

6. Glue the flower stamens and balance them evenly.

7. Let the glue completely dry.

8. Done!

The Coming-of-Age Day Ceremony

The second Monday in January is Coming-of-Age Day in Japan. Ceremonies are held in each city to celebrate people turning 20 years old. In Japan, people are legally considered adults at age 20, and this holiday celebrates those who become adults during the school year. 

Although the tradition has existed in one form or another since ancient times, it was made a national holiday in 1949. It was originally celebrated on January 15th, but Coming-of-Age Day was eventually changed to the second Monday in January. This gave people an extra day off over the weekend as part of Japan’s “Happy Monday System.”

People wear formal dress for the ceremony, so Coming-of-Age Day is one of the big opportunities for us to wear traditional Japanese clothes in modern culture. Most men choose to wear a western style suit, but many don “Haori-Hakama.” For women, it’s a chance to wear bright “Furi-Sode.”  

“Haori-Hakama” is a type of kimono. “Haori” is a kind of jacket and “Hakama” is a kind of pants. The outfit is normally black, gray, and white, but some men choose to wear extremely colorful “Haori-Hakama” for their ceremony.

“Furi-Sode” is a type of kimono for young women traditionally associated with purity. “Furi” means swing and “Sode” means sleeve. The outfit has very long sleeves that swing when you move. The sleeves are used to display even more of the kimono’s beautiful patterns, which makes this version extra gorgeous and elegant. Accessories are also important to add a woman’s charm, so “Tsumami-Zaiku” hair ornaments are an important part of Coming-of-Age Day in Japan.

The ceremonies are very large events held in public places like gyms and concert halls, so many cities are cancelling them this year because of the Coronavirus. I really enjoyed Coming-of-Age Day in Japan, and I feel very sorry for those who are going to miss out. I hope that we will be able to have the ceremony next year, though.  

Stay safe, everyone!