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?
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.”
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!)
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.”
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.
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. https://irohakamon.com/symbol.html
And about Japanese traditional patterns, here is a link to “Dentou Monyou” which means “Traditional (Japanese) Patterns.” This site has English translations. https://naisouzairyou-annai.jp/pattern/tradition/index.html