Japanese symbolism

Japanese symbolism DEFAULT

What does this mean? Symbols, meanings, emblems and shapes in Japan.

Symbols and Meanings in Japan. Japan has an indirect communication style, so there are many symbols in everyday life. Some of the Japanese symbols and their meanings are 1- Salt: Purity 2- Crane: Longevity 3- Sakura tree: Transience 4- Carp: Perseverance 5- Red Gate: Sacred World 6- Dragon: Strength 7- Chrysanthemum flower: Imperial Family 8- Japanese flag: The Sun 9- Round Circle: Universe 10- Beckoning Cat: Good Fortune. Japanese tea ceremony, Japanese culture


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The zen circle:Enso. This means emptiness and universe. In order to understand the universe people must empty their minds.


Sumo salt toss

Salt : Salt means purification. Sumo wrestlers throw salt to clean the stage. Restaurants put salt next to the entrance to protect from evil spirits.


Rice Paddy II

Rice : Rice is the symbol of the shinto religion. Rice is given to shinto gods. The Japanese emperor grows rice every year symbolically.


It is a time brain to the setting sun

Sun: Sun is the most important god. The first Japanese emperor was the grandson of the Sun-God.


Sensu at Eiraido, Nihonbashi

Folding fan: In the past, all Japanese people carried fans. It means prosperity and the blooming flower. In Tea ceremony , the folding fan is the border of each participant.


Shika deer

Deers : Deers are the messengers of god. They should not be hunted. That is why there are so many deers in Nara.


Okuno-in cemetery, Koyasan

Statues with red bib: In the past parents put the red bib on the Buddhist statues to protect kids who died before their parents. “Jizo”is the protector of children and protector of travelers.
Red color: Red is the color of purification. Red color keeps the devils away.


tori

Red/orange  Gate: This is called “tori” in Japanese. The gate symbolizes the separation between real life and spiritual life. You should not walk in the middle (middle way is reserved for the gods).


Incense Burner of Temple

Incense burners / candle : The smoke from the candle heals your body. In Japanese they are called “koro.”


Vermilion and gold

Rice straws: They protect from evil spirits. The rice straws are put at the gate of the shrines and around rocks and around trees (things that may contain spirits inside). Sumo champions also wear it because they also carry a special spirit inside. In Japanese this is called “shimenawa.”


shimenawa and shide

White zigzag papers: The paper represents the lightning wand. Shinto priests use it for purification. In Japanese it is called “shide.”


Stone Lantern and Pond

Stone lanterns : They are a present to buddha. They are also used for decoration in gardens. Most of the time they are empty. In Japanese they are called “doro.”


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Dog statues: In front of Shinto shrines there are always dog statues. These dogs protect the shrine. The open mouth means beginning. The closed mouth means ending. In Japanese they are called “komainu.”


sake barrels

Sake Barrels : These barrels are donated to shinto shrines by sake breweries. Sake is a tool to unite people and the gods. One barrel equals to 72 liters. In Japanese it is called “karadaru.”


Inari

Fox: Represents the God of rice and fertility. It can be male or female. Some say foxes are not the gods, just the representative of the god. In Japanese it is called “Inari.”


Buddhist flag

Colorful flags in Buddhist Temples: Colorful flag (Gree, yellow, red, white, blue) represents the 5 Dhyani type of Buddhas. The flag is also shown on the birthday celebrations of Buddha (Hanamatsuri).


The Gaurdian

Agyo and Ugyo: Statues of devils at the gates of Buddhist temples. They protect the temple from evil spirits. They also represent the birth and death.


Raijin and Fujin

Raijin and Fujin: The god of thunder and the god of wind. These are shinto gods. Similar to the Greek mythology.


Fudou Myoo

Fudou Myoo: The wisdom king. Also known as “Acala.” The sword represents wisdom that cuts ignorance. His rope binds up demons.


omamori

Omamori amulets: These amulets are sold at shrines. They protect from bad luck.


Omikuji and ema near Juso Eki

Omikuji papers: In shrines people can buy these papers for 5 yen. When people open the paper they can see good fortune or bad fortune. It must be tied to the tree or the wires if it has bad fortune. Paper knots.


shrine bells | 神社の鈴

Ringing the bell and clapping hands: People ring the bell and clap hands to call attention of the gods.


招き猫 (maneki neko)

The cat: Maneki Neko. that brings luck. White cat brings health, black cat protects from evil spirits. The gold-color cat brings money.


Daruma

Lucky Daruma Doll: Represents Bodidaruma (the founder of zen buddhism). People paint the right eye before making a wish. When the wish comes true, people paint the left eye. It brings luck.


Owl figure

Owl figure: Fukuro フクロウ (梟), is written as luck (福 fuku, luck; 来ku, to come). It protects from hardship (不 fu, no, 苦労 kurou suffering/hardship).


Frog figure

Frog figure: Kaeru. In Japanese the word for frog is “kaeru” (return). People who travel, carry a frog charm to safely return back home.


Tanuki-mura

Tanuki statue: Racoon dog. They bring good luck, the sake bottle they carry has the good luck symbol (八). They carry papers that show they don’t pay their debt.


Biliken

Biliken: a charm doll created by an American art teacher and illustrator, Florence Pretz of Kansas City. In 1912, Biliken was displayed in Shinsekai Lunapark as a symbol from the US.


Chrysanthemum flower

Chrysanthemum flower: This means endurance.Chrysanthemum is the symbol of the Imperial family. It has 16 petals. The Japanese parliament also uses this emblem.


Bonsai

Bonsai: Bonsai means plant in a box. It symbolizes harmony and balance.


Sakura

Sakura flower: This means, all the beautiful things in life are temporary (mono no aware).


蓮美人

Lotus flower: The is the symbol of purity. The buddha sits in the shape of the lotus flower . This is related to Buddhism.


Wish gourd 祈禱葫蘆

Gourd: Good luck and good health. This meaning comes from the Tao belief.


Acorn

Acorn: Good luck.


Police Car

Police symbol: The pentagon shaped star represents the police force in Japan.


Manji (Swastika)

Manji: This shapes looks like swastika but it is not (The direction is different). It means good luck and good health. On the maps they represent a Buddhist temple.


Tomoe

Tomoe: 3 commas. The sign of Shinto. The commas represent earth, sky and human. It can be found in Buddhist temples too. Until the Meiji period, Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines were built together.


Lion on the roof

Lion on the roof. Shisa. These lions protect the houses from evil spirits. It is more common in the okinawa island.


Dragon Fountain at Sensō-ji Temple

Dragon: Is the water deity. Dragon means strength and wisdom. Japanese dragons have 3 toes, Chinese dragons have 4 toes.


Koi fish

Koi fish : Perseverance. According to a Chinese tale, the koi fish becomes a dragon when it reaches on the top of the river.


Dragonfly

Dragonfly: Persistence. Dragonflies always fly forward, they never fly backward. The samurai put the dragonfly symbol on the samurai helmets.


Crane

Crane: The symbol of  longevity and good fortune. Cranes are monogamous. Japanese use cranes on bridals.


Crane

Paper crane: The symbol of peace.


Phoenix

Phoenix: Phoenix is the symbol of the royal family. Both in China and Japan, phoenix used to represent the imperial family.


A shachihoko is an animal in folklore with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp. It was believed that this animal could cause the rain to fall. Temples and castles were often adorned with these roof ornaments to protect them from fires.

Monster fish on the castle roof: Shachihoko. These monsters bring the rain.They protect castles from fire.


Kadomatsu ---Traditional Decoration for New Year's Day---

3 bamboos (new year): New year decorations have 3 bamboo pieces. These bamboos are cut in the middle. Bamboos always grow straightforward in difficult conditions. In Japanese this decoration is called kadomatsu. During the new year, the deitities only visit the houses if there is a special decoration.


Rice Cakes

2 rice cakes and tangerine: In Japanese this is called “kagami mochi.”It means a) old generation and new generation b) the new year and the old year. People boil it and eat it on  January 11th. In Japanese, kagami means mirror.


Casting the Demons Out

Bean throwing day: Setsubun. One day before the beginning of the Spring. People throw beans at the demon. People yell “demons go outside, luck come inside.”


Hina doll

Hina dolls : 7 layers of  dolls that represent the imperial family from the Heian Period. These dolls are displayed in March to celebrate the girls’ day.


Samurai Helmet, at the Asian Art Museum. San Francisco

Samurai helmets: Samurai helmets and samurai statues are displayed to celebrate the boys’ day. In Japanese “kabuto.”


Koi nobori

Flying fish on the roof:  It is to celebrate the boys’ day in May. In Japanese it is called koi-nobori.


Tanabata

Colorful papers on bamboo tree. To celebrate the stars’ festival. Two stars (Vega Star and Altair Star) meet in the sky on the 7th day of the 7th month. People write their wish on these colorful papers.  In Japanese it is called Tanabata.


Red monster with green scarf

Red monster with green scarf. Lion heads. People wear these masks when they pray for the good harvest season. In Japanese they are called “shishimai.”


Mitsuba Aoi inverted

3 clovers : The symbol of the Tokugawa shogun.


Toyotomi emblem kamon

3 leaves and 3 roots: The symbol of the Toyotomi clan. This is also the same with government seal of Japan.


The symbol of the Mori clan

1 line and 3 dots: The symbol of the Mori clan.


Prewar japanese flag

Rising sun in the flag: Japan is known as the land of the rising sun. The red circle in the flag represents the sun. The sun is the most important Shinto God (Amaterasu). In Japanese it is called “hinomaru.”


V-Shaped symbol with yellow and green

V-Shaped symbol with yellow and green: In japan this means the person is the beginner. It is commonly found in new drivers’ cars.
T-shape with a line. 〒 . This is the sign for the Japanese post office. This also means the zip code.

 

Masks

 

Daikoku

Daikoku: The god of good fortune and wealth. One of the 7 lucky gods.


Ebisu

Ebisu: The god of fishermen and workers. One of the 7 lucky gods.


Ko-Omote

Ko-omote: The noh-theater mask. It represents a young woman. Many different emotions (joy, anger, happiness) can be seen on the face. The right half and the left half of the nose are asymmetrical.


Hannya

Hannya: The evil woman who became a demon because of jealousy.


Hyottoko / ひょっとこ

Hoyottoko: A comical character whose mouth is skewed.


Okame

Okame: A smiling Japanese woman that brings happiness and wealth to the person she marries.


BABYMETAL Bugdroid(YUIMETAL/SU-METAL/MOAMETAL) + Kitsune-Mask[WORLD TOUR 2014 Ver.]

Kitsune: Fox. Foxes are the messengers of the God Inari. They maybe evil or benign depending on the situation.


Masks of Tengu and Dragon

Tengu: It has a long nose. They are a combination of a bird and a human. They protect buddhist temples.


Gigaku Mask of the Karura Type

Karura: Has a human body and bird face also known as Garuda in Sanskrit.


Oni

Red devil and blue devil. Oni. In Japan the image of the ogre is a red devil or blue devil. In children’s stories, the hero usually fight against these devils.


Kabuki masks

Kabuki masks: Red colors are used more for heroes and black colors are used more for evil characters.

Sours: https://mai-ko.com/travel/culture-in-japan/japanese-symbols-and-meanings-in-japan/

Motifs in Japanese Design

Symbols and motifs have always been an integral part of Japanese aesthetics, both in traditional and modern designs. These symbols can be found integrated in many of the items found at Nalata Nalata through graphics, textiles and applied arts. This is a reference guide that will give you some insights into the meaning behind these motifs and hopefully give you a better appreciation of the symbolic aspects of Japanese culture.

 

Sun_Header_02

The iconic Japanese symbol is derived from the mythological goddess of the sun, Amaterasu from the Shinto religion. According to myth, the goddess founded Japan approximately 2700 years ago and all the emperors of Japan are known as “Sons of the Sun”, essentially direct descendants of the goddess herself. The design of the national flag reflects the central importance of the sun in Japanese tradition.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Futagami_Brass_Sun_Trivet

 

 

Lotus_Header_02

Primarily a symbol of purity, the lotus is revered in Japan for its ability to rise from the dirty muddy waters to bloom into a beautiful flower. Most commonly associated with the Buddhist achievement of enlightenment, it has been used as a very popular symbol of living your life to the fullest.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Studio_Prepa_Glass_Lotus_Bowls

 

 

FoldingFan_Header_02

Adopted from Chinese culture, the fan has come to signify a high social status and symbolize the journey of life. The small end essentially represents birth and the blades symbolizing the many paths possible in life’s journey. Historically, Japanese people of every age, gender and demographic have carried fans with many of them beautifully painted to tell stories or convey secret messages.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Azmaya_Bean_Dish_Folding_Fan

 

 

Chrysanthemum_Header_02

The Chrysanthemum is a symbol of endurance and rejuvenation. It was first introduced as a symbol by the Japanese Royal Family as an Imperial emblem during the Nara period. The flower is distinctly characterized by its 16 petals and is most commonly used for official Japanese Diet (government) seals. It has the distinct honor to be on the cover of the Japanese passport.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Jicon_Chrysanthemum_Plate

 

 

Daruma_Header_02

The Daruma is a traditional Japanese wishing doll and the symbol of achievement in Japan. It is an old tradition that is practiced till this day. When you receive a daruma doll, you pick a specific goal you are determined to achieve. You draw in one of the eyes to show your commitment to the goal. Afterwards, you place the doll in a visible area as a reminder of the task at hand. When you have achieved your goal, you draw in the other eye.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Printed_Daruma_Toilet_Paper

 

 

Sakura_Header_02

Since the Heian Period, the cherry blossom has been revered by the Japanese and closely associated with its philosophy of mono no aware. The flower’s brief blooming time and the fragility of the blossom has always been linked to an association with the transience of life and an appreciation for fleeting beauty.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Takashi_Tomii_Sakura_Cherry_Blossom_Stir_Stick

 

 

Butterfly_Header_02

In Japanese culture, butterflies carry a number of meanings but are most closely associated with the symbolism of metamorphosis and transformation. They are closely linked with recently departed spirits and consequently are represented in a number of traditional family crests.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Mariko_Kitano_Brass_Teaspoon_Butterfly

 

 

Crane_Header_02

Cranes are most commonly used to represent longevity and good fortune. Appropriately, they are found during the Japanese New Year and during wedding ceremonies in textile prints. Cranes have also found their way to prominence in the world of origami, where in Japanese culture to fold one thousand paper cranes makes a special wish come true.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Paper_Crane

 

Plum_Header_02

The plum flower is one of the first blossoms to open during the year and has always been closely associated with the coming of spring. Unlike the cherry blossom, the plum has a strong sweet fragrance. Since the Heian period, they have been a symbol of refinement and purity, along with a reminder of former lovers.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Takashi_Tomii_Plum_Dish

 

 

Gourd_Header_02

In Japan, the gourd is often associated with divinity and found in many regional folk tales stemming from Taoist beliefs. Its curvaceous shape is commonly met with affection as a symbol of good luck, good health and prosperity.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Azmaya_Gourd_Bean_Dish

 

Moon_Header_02

At the center of Japanese mythology, is the goddess of the moon, Tsukiyomi. This powerful figure in early times has made the moon a common motif in Japanese arts and crafts. Up till the mid 19th century, Japan even followed the lunar calendar. The symbolic meaning of the moon is closely tied to the act of rejuvenation.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Futagami_Four_Moon_Brass_Chopstick_Rests

 

Koi_Header_02

According to Japanese legend, if a Koi fish succeeded to swim upstream and climb the waterfalls at a point called Dragon Gate on the Yellow River, it would transform into a Dragon. Based on this legend, it became a symbol of aspiration and perseverance.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Paper_Koi_Fish_Figurine

 

Acorn_Header_04

The acorn is considered to be an emblem of good luck. There is a popular Japanese proverb involving the acorn (donguri)…”Donguri no seikurabe”. It literally means, “comparing the height of acorns” and refers to the notion that “they are all alike”.

Japan_Design_Motifs_Nalata_Nalata_Koma_Wood_Top_Acorn

 

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Japanese symbolic animals are a huge and important part of Japanese culture, with inclusion in traditional sculptures, prints, and more. This post uncovers the  Japanese spiritual symbols of a range of Japanese animals, including some Japanese folklore animals, that you may or may not be familiar with.

Butterflies – ‘Choho’

Japan perceives the butterfly to be a ‘soul of the living and the dead’, as a result of the popular belief that spirits of the dead take the form of a butterfly when on their journey to the other world and eternal life. The butterfly is also often used as a symbol for young girls as they spread their wings and emerge into womanhood, as well as it being believed to symbolise joy and longevity. Additionally, if a symbol contains two butterflies dancing around each other, it’s a symbol of marital happiness.

japanese-butterfly

Koi Carp

‘Koi’ means ‘Carp’ in Japanese, and this fish is a symbol of perseverance due to the fish’s tendency to swim upstream and resist the flow of water. Koi Carp also symbolise faithfulness and marriage in Japan. A design of carp swimming against rapids symbolises the Children’s Day Festival on May 5th. This is to inspire children to work hard in order to succeed.

japanese-koi-carp

Cranes – ‘Tsuru’

The crane represents good fortune and longevity. As a one of the Japanese folklore animals, the symbolism behind these animals comes from the folklores themselves, as it was believed that the crane lives for 1,000 years. The crane is also closely associated with Japanese New Year and wedding ceremonies due to cranes being monogamous. Because of this, the image of a crane is sometimes woven into beautiful wedding kimonos!

The crane is often produced in Japanese origami and artwork. Large colourful necklaces of cranes are also commonly seen outside of Japanese temples. If you’re interested in making your own origami cranes, browse our range of origami paper! Want to know more about other Japanese birds and their symbolism? See our previous post for more details.

japanese-crane

Frogs – ‘Kaeru’

Among popular Japanese spiritual symbols are frogs. There are many species of frogs in Japan as a result of flooding rice fields in Japanese agriculture. These creatures are often used in poetry and art, and are sometimes carried by travellers to make sure they return home safely from their journeys. The word ‘frog’ in Japanese means ‘return’, which is why the frog is considered a Japanese lucky animal and seen as good fortune in things returning.

japanese-frog

Turtles – ‘Kame’

The Japanese word for turtle is kame, and the Japanese believe that the turtle is a symbol for wisdom, luck, protection, and longevity; longevity due to their long lifespan and slow movements. The turtle is magic and unites heaven and earth, with its shell representing heaven and its square underside representing earth.

japanese-word-for-turtle

Dragon – ‘Tatsu’

Although a mythical creature, the dragon is an important part of Japanese culture. It’s a symbol of great power, wisdom, and success, and is said to bring strength, luck, and fortune. The Japanese dragon is similar to the Chinese dragon, but is more serpentine in its shape. The Chinese dragon also differs in that it is largely associated with rain, due to drought disasters that China experiences. However, due to Japan being less susceptible to drought, the Japanese dragon is associated more with the sea.

japanese-dragon

Raccoon Dog – ‘Tanuki’

A subspecies of the Asian raccoon dog, and as a Japanese folklore animal, this animal has had a significance since ancient times. The raccoon dog is known to be mischievous and jolly, as well as a master of disguise with traits that are thought to bring good fortune. Tanuki is also regarded as a Japanese art animal, appearing in many different forms of modern and traditional art.

japanese-folklore-animals

Lions – ‘Komainu’

The lion traditional symbolises power, strength, and protection. The Japanese animal symbol of a lion is often associated with places of worship, where you often find a pair of lion statues guarding the entrances to shrines or temples. These are often referred to as ‘lion dogs’, and are believed to ward off evil spirits.

japanese-art-animals

Cats – ‘Maneki Neko’

The lucky cat is regularly represented in talismans, and is thought to bring luck, happiness, wealth, and prosperity. These cats are identified through their raised right paw. They make for a lovely gift and if you want to find out what’s so lucky about lucky cats, our blog post takes a look at their history and what each colour and posture symbolises, so you can ensure that you’re choosing the right gift when you browse our range of lucky cats.

japanese-spiritual-symbols

Many from this list of Japanese symbolic animals are replicated in statues, talismans, and mascots, and are often given as gifts based on the meaning that they symbolise. Make sure you check out the rest of our blog for more insights into Japan’s wonderful culture!

To uncover more symbolism within Japanese culture, check out our flower symbolism in Japanese culture post.

Sours: https://www.thejapaneseshop.co.uk/blog/japanese-symbolic-animals-meanings/

Shinto Symbols: The Meanings of the Most Common Symbols Seen at Japanese Shinto Shrines

What Is Shinto?

Before we get into the meaning behind Shinto symbols, let’s go over some of the basic concepts connected to Shinto to get a better understanding of the religion (if we can even call it that). Like any religion, it is difficult to concisely define Shinto in a few words, however, it is notable for its polytheistic worship of “kami,” meaning “gods or spirits that exist in all things.” Because of this belief that kami reside in all things across nature—such as mountains, trees, waterfalls, etc—Shinto is also classified as an animistic religion, one that worships nature or nature spirits. Another term to describe Shinto is “kami-no-michi,” or “the way of the gods.”

Unlike some religions, there is no central authority that dictates the rules and regulations of Shinto, and as a result, practices can vary greatly from region to region and even neighboring shrines.

Shinto Symbols

Now that we have laid the groundwork for what makes Shinto unique, let's take a look at some of the more notable Shinto symbols and motifs and the meanings behind them. The six Shinto symbols we will be covering today are "torii," "shimenawa," "shide," "sakaki," "tomoe," and "shinkyo."

Torii Gates, The Entrance to Shinto Shrines

Perhaps the most recognizable symbols of Shintoism are the majestic gates that mark the entrance to Shinto shrines. Made of wood or stone, these two-post gateways are known as “torii” and show the boundaries in which a kami lives. The act of passing through a torii is seen as a form of purification, which is very important when visiting a shrine, as purification rituals are a major function in Shinto. 

After learning about what torii are, it is natural to wonder why so many are painted such a vibrant shade of red (or orange). In Japan, the color red is representative of the sun and life, and it is also said to ward off bad omens and disasters. Once again, by passing through these red gates, visitors to a shrine are cleansed of any bad energy, ensuring that only good energy will be brought to the Kami that resides inside. On a less spiritual and more practical note, the color red is also the color of the lacquer which has traditionally been used to coat the wood of the torii and protect it against the elements. 

Having said this, not all torii are red. There are a variety of torii made of unlacquered wood, stone (usually white or grey in color), and even metal. While there are a great number of color variations (including black), there is an even greater number of shapes (somewhere around 60 different varieties!). The two most common kinds, however, are "myojin" and "shinmei" torii. Myojin torii are curved upwards at their ends and have a crossbeam that extends past the posts (as in the photo above). Shinmei torii, however, have a straight top and a crossbeam that ends at each post (as in the photo below).


 

・Some of Japan's Most Recognizable Torii

When speaking of torii, perhaps the most famous location is Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine. This iconic shrine plays host to literally thousands of orange torii gates that wind up the mountain.

Another very famous torii can be found at Ikutsushima Shrine on an island called Miyajima. Only 40 minutes from Hiroshima City, this majestic torii is quite spectacular as it rises up out of the sea.

Oarai-Isosaki Shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture is home to another iconic torii that sits on a rocky outcropping off the shore. This torii is simple yet beautiful, particularly at sunset or when a turbulent sea sends waves crashing onto the rock.

One of Tokyo's most iconic torii is the giant first gate at Yasukuni Shrine. The massive metal torii has a simple design, but is awe-inspiring due to its gigantic size, standing 25 meters (82 feet) tall. 

Another of the most highly-photographed torii gates in Japan is at Hakone Shrine in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture. The gate stands in the water of Lake Ashi near the foot of Mt. Fuji. This torii is so popular that those hoping to take a photo often need to wait in line for more than two hours.

Saitama Prefecture's Mitsumine Shrine not only has a gorgeous setting, nestled in the mountains around the city of Chichibu, but it is also home to a beautiful gold-accented torii with a less common "miwa" design. 

Shimenawa, Shinto's Sacred Rope

"Shimenawa" are ropes, often adorned with white zig-zag-shaped ornaments. They can vary greatly in size and diameter, with some being not much more than a few threads, while others are massive and thick! Shimenawa are typically used to mark the boundaries of sacred space and are said to ward off evil spirits.

They are often seen hanging from torii, wrapped around sacred trees and rocks (within which kami are said to reside), or even fastened around that waist of grand champion sumo wrestlers! These special trees, rocks, and "yokozuna" (sumo grand champs) are known as “yorishiro,” meaning something that attracts gods or has a god living within.

Shide, the White, Zig-Zag Papers

One particular item you may notice when walking on the premises of a shrine is the zig-zag white papers, often hanging from the aforementioned shimenawa. These curious items can be found all over the place within a shrine and are often used to demarcate the boundaries of a sacred space or border within the shrine. The lightning-shaped decorations are called “shide” (pronounced "she-day") and are also used in a variety of purification ceremonies. If you go at the right time, you might even see shide attached to special wands used by Shinto priests performing said ceremonies.

There are two theories behind why shide have their lightning shape. One claims that the shape is representative of the infinite power of the gods, and another suggests that as rain, clouds, and lightning are elements of a good harvest, lightning-shaped shide are a prayer to the gods for a bountiful season. 

There are a variety of different shide-adorned wands used in Shinto, with subtle differences between them in terms of style. Two of these wands are called “gohei” and “haraegushi." Shrine maidens called “miko” use the gohei wand with two shide attached in rituals and ceremonies to bless people, but the main purpose of the wand is to bless objects or cleanse sacred places of negative energy.  

The haraegushi wand with many shide attached is used for the same purpose of cleansing but under different circumstances. A Shinto priest will rhythmically wave the haraegushi over a person or a person's newly obtained objects, such as a new house or car to perform this purification ritual.

Sakaki, Shinto’s Sacred Tree

As mentioned previously, nature worship is a key element of Shintoism, trees playing a particularly important role. Certain types of trees are considered sacred and are known as “shinboku.” Not unlike torii, these trees, which surround a shrine, create a sacred fence inside of which is deemed a purified space.

Although there are a few types of trees that are considered sacred, perhaps there is none more important than the sakaki, a flowering evergreen native to Japan. Sakaki trees are commonly found planted around shrines to act as a sacred fence, and a branch of sakaki is sometimes used as an offering to the gods. One of the reasons that sakaki trees are considered sacred in Shinto has to do with the fact that they are evergreens and therefore symbolic of immortality. Another more important reason is tied to a legend in which a sakaki tree was decorated in order to lure Amaterasu, the sun goddess, out of her hiding place inside a cave. This myth (described in more detail in the shinkyo section below) gives a special symbolism to the sakaki tree that is celebrated in Shinto ritual to this day. 

Tomoe, The Swirling Commas

The swirling "tomoe" symbol may remind many of China’s well-known yin-yang symbol. However, the meaning and use are quite different. Tomoe, often translated as “comma,” were commonly used in Japanese badges of authority called “mon,” and as such tomoe are associated with samurai.

Tomoe can feature two, three, or even four commas in their design. The three-comma "mitsu-domoe", however, is the most commonly used in Shintoism and is said to represent the interaction of the three realms of existence: heaven, earth, and the underworld. 

Keep an eye out for tomoe and you will see them used to decorate all manner things from taiko drums and protective charms to lanterns and Japanese-style roofs! 

Shinkyo, Shinto's God Mirror

Our final Shinto symbol for discussion is in the “shinkyo,” or "god mirror," a mystical object said to connect our world to the spirit realm. Shinkyo can be seen displayed at Shinto alters as an avatar of the kami, the idea being that the god will enter the mirror in order to interface with our world.

This belief goes all the way back to a legend involving the Japanese sun goddess, Amaterasu, who once went into hiding in a cave, thereby plunging the world into darkness. In order to coax her out of the cave, numerous other gods gathered outside the cave and threw a party. The gods hung jewels and a mirror from a sakaki tree in front of the cave to distract Amaterasu's attention should she venture outside. Curious about the festive noises, Amaterasu peeked out of the cave and asked why the other gods were celebrating. In response, she was told that there was a goddess even more beautiful than herself outside the cave. Upon exiting the cave, she was greeted by the mirror and her own reflection, at which point, the other gods took the opportunity to seal the cave shut with a shimenawa. 

Later, this same mirror was later given to Amaterasu's grandson with the instructions to worship it as if it were Amaterasu herself. In this way, one does not necessarily pray to a shinkyo, but rather to the god of that shrine for which the mirror is acting as a physical avatar. The shinkyo is considered a "shintai," or a physical stand-in that the kami can inhabit in the human realm.

By the way, the cave described in the legend is actually a real place, now called the Amanoyasugawara Shrine, in Miyazaki Prefecture (pictured above). It's a bit off the beaten path but is a very cool place to visit once you know this story. 

Conclusion

Even with what we have covered today, there is much more to learn when it comes to Shinto, the way of the gods. If you are curious to learn more about Japanese culture and shrines, take a look at our articles “Proper Shrine Worship Etiquette” and “10 Important Points To Note About Praying at a Shrine”.

Although we have only scratched the surface of Shinto symbols in this article, hopefully, it will give you a greater appreciation for the small details and fascinating stories behind the symbols. When you have the opportunity to visit a Shinto shrine, please keep an eye out for all of the symbols mentioned above!

 

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Symbolism japanese

Japanese Symbols

Japanese Symbols

As well as the many thousand kanji characters (漢字) that make up Japan's written language, Japan is a country of many important symbols, originating in its people's early cultural beliefs, religion and imperial myths.

Imperial & State Symbols

Japanese symbols.

The sixteen petal chrysanthemum, usually white or orange, is the crest or mon (紋) of the Japanese emperor and is often seen displayed on Shinto shrines throughout the country.

The Imperial Regalia of Japan, also known as the "Three Sacred Treasures of Japan," are the sacred sword (kusanagi), the mirror (yata no kagami), and the jewel (yasakani no magatama), symbolizing the imperial virtues of valor (the sword), wisdom (the mirror), and benevolence (the jewel).

These mythical objects are not on display to the general public but the sword or a replica of it is said to be kept at Atsuta Shrine in Nagoya, the jewel at The Imperial Palace in Tokyo, and the mirror is the Grand Shrine of Ise.

Magatama

The curved stone beads or magatama (勾玉 or 曲玉) often made from agate, jade, jasper, quartz or talc date from shamanistic rituals in the Jomon period of Japanese history and are believed to symbolize the vitality of the human spirit. Popular with the ruling chieftains of the period, magatama have been found in numerous burial mounds (kofun) dating from the Jomon era.

Three magatama forming a flowing circle can be found on the rounded roof tiles in Japanese temples. The use of magatama as regal symbols also spread to the Korean peninsula through the close connections of the various kingdoms in Korea and Japan at the time. Nowadays, magatama make for popular cell phone straps.

Domoe & Mitsudomoe

Similar to the magatama is the comma-shaped domoe or tomoe symbol. The futatsudomoe (二つ巴) is a symbol using two swirls. The mitsudomoe (三つ巴) is a common design of three swirls or three magatama and is seen on Japanese family crests (see below) and on roof tiles on traditional Japanese homes, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. The design can also be found on taiko drums and was used in the old flag of the Ryukyu Islands (Okinawa) and the modern flag of Jeju Island in South Korea. The mitsudomoe became to be associated with Hachiman, the Shinto god of war and later with the samurai. The domoe symbol is similar to the Korean sam-taegeuk and Tibetan gankyil.

Mitsudomoe Japanese symbol.
Mitsudomoe design pattern.
Hinomaru or Nisshoki Japanese flag.
Wartime Japanese naval ensign.

Japanese Flag

Japan's national flag, the Nisshoki (日章旗, "rising sun flag"), more commonly known as the Hinomaru (日の丸, "the sun disk"), is the well-known and memorable red circle in the middle of an all white background. The red symbol is the rising sun.

The Rising Sun Ensign (旭日旗, "kyokujitsu-ki") with sixteeen sun rays (image above right) is the controversial Japanese war flag used during World War II and now flown by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Forces. The Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces fly an eight-ray version of the flag.

The original flag was flown by various feudal lords (daimyo) during the Edo Period (1603-1868) and was adopted as the de facto national flag in 1870 at the beginning of the new Meiji State.

Triple tomoe, Umi Hachimangu Shrine.
Japanese crest.
Japanese crest.

Japanese Crests: Mon

Japanese family crests (mon, monsho or kamon) are somewhat similar to European coats of arms in heraldry.

Japanese crests originated as badges woven into clothing such as haori, happi coats and kimono to distinguish the members of a particular clan. Later these crests were added to the flags, arms and armor of the samurai. Well-known mon include the chrysanthemum crest of the Emperor (see above), the three hollyhock design of the Tokugawa family and the three water chesnuts in the Mitsubishi logo. Family crests are also seen in the rounded ceramic roof tiles of surviving samurai houses.

Modern Japanese Symbols

Other more modern Japanese symbols used by organizations and businesses as well as on maps include the Japanese post symbol - a capital T with a bar over the top representing a post office (〒 unicode: U+3012) and the beginning of a Japanese 7-digit post code, the symbol for public bath (sento) and onsen - a circle with three lines of steam rising from it or the kanji (yu, 湯) or hiragana (ゆ) and the torii gate sign to represent a Shinto shrine. The symbol used on maps and signs for Japanese temples is the manji (卍) or swastika (which has no relation whatsoever with Nazi Germany). For schools and universities the symbol bun (文) with the meaning of "literature" or "composition" hence "study" or "school" is used - a place where people write.

Japanese shrine symbol.
Japanese temple symbol.
Japanese onsen symbol.

Korean Symbols


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The Art of Ink: Japanese

National symbols of Japan

Symbol Image References FlagFlag of Japan
Hinomaru
Coat of armsImperial Seal of Japan
(Chrysanthemum morifolium)
Imperial Seal of Japan
National anthemKimigayo
君が代 Government SealGovernment Seal of Japan
(Paulownia)
Government Seal of Japan
National butterflyGreat purple emperor
(Sasakia charonda)
Great purple emperor
National treeCherry blossom
(Prunus serrulata)
Cherry blossom tree
National flower(de facto)Cherry blossom (Prunus serrulata) & Chrysanthemum morifolium
Cherry blossom flower
Chrysanthemum morifolium flower
National birdGreen pheasant
(Phasianus versicolor)
Green pheasant
Reference.[2]National fishKoi
(Cyprinus carpio)
Japanese Koi
National instrumentKoto
Japanese Koto
National stoneJade
Jade
De Facto National mountMount Fuji
(Fujisan)
Mount Fuji
De Facto National sportSumo
Sumo
Flag of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense ForceRising Sun Flag
Naval Ensign of Japan
Flag of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Japan Ground Self-Defense ForceJapan Self-Defense Forces
Naval Ensign of Japan
National personificationAmaterasu
Amaterasu
National founderEmperor Jimmu (神武天皇 Jinmu-tennō)
Emperor Jimmu
National dishSushi, Japanese Curry, Ramen
Sushi
Sushi,[3]Japanese curry,[4]Ramen[5]National liquorsake
Sake
sake[6] (fermented rice), awamori, Japanese whisky, shōchūNational fruitJapanese persimmon
Japanese persimmon
Persimmon[7]National currencyJapanese Yen
Japanese Yen coins
National danceNoh Mai
Emperor Jimmu
National poetKoizumi Yakumo, Murasaki Shikibu, Matsuo Bashō
Matsuo Bashō
National epicKojiki, Nihon Shoki, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter (Taketori Monogatari), The Tale of the Heike (Heike Monogatari)
Nihon Shoki
National coloursPrimary colours: Red and white.
Secondary colours: Black (sports); Blue, white and spring bud (only used in Football)

Spring bud (secondary)
#e8f48c

National microorganism Aspergillus oryzae
Aspergillus oryzaeis used in a number of traditional fermented foods such as sake, soy sauce, and miso.
[8]
Sours: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_symbols_of_Japan

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TOP 10 JAPANESE SYMBOLS

What is the symbol of Japan? There are several answers to this question. Japanese culture and history are so extensive that one can actually find many well-known Japanese symbols, characteristic only for the Land of the Cherry Blossoms. But will the cherry blossoms themselves also be included? Here are 10 things that most closely associated with Japan.

Geisha - a woman of art

Geisha (芸者), in Japanese this word denotes a woman with artistic skills. She wears a sumptuous kimono, strong makeup, and a lush hairstyle every day and the most common additions to her costume are a fan or an umbrella. To become a geisha, a woman must first complete education in a special school. At such a school, they learn various dance techniques and crafts and they are also taught about culture and important ceremonies. All the decorative layers worn by a geisha are meant to separate her from the surrounding reality itself. Through this, the woman of art becomes not only a living symbol of artistry but also a symbol of mystery, wisdom and hidden beauty.

Japan - The Land of the Sakura Blossoms

In Japanese, Sakura (桜) means cherry blossom. As such, it is not without reason that Japan is called the Land of the Cherry Blossoms. Each year, in late March and early April, the trees sprout out thousands of spectacular pink buds. Therefore, the Japanese celebrate this occasion with a special custom called hanami (花見), which literally means “watching flowers”. At that time, hotel and airline ticket prices usually rise and many tours travel along the trail of blossoming cherry trees. This particular Japanese symbol reminds people of youth, the fleeting nature of life and it also indicates that the spring is coming soon.

Samurai - a Japanese knight

The Samurai were ancient Japanese warriors who were completely devoted to their ruler. They were guided by honour and the unwritten bushidō (武士道 – the warrior’s path) code. They gained recognition through valour and enlightenment. They never parted with their main weapon - the katana, which symbolised their constant readiness to fight and in itself was the very soul of the samurai. These Japanese warriors are a symbol of courage, loyalty and persistence.

Bonsai - a miniature tree of happiness

In actuality, the art of growing dwarf bonsai (盆栽) plants originated in China, however, today it is considered one of the symbols of Japan. It is due to the fact that it was in the country of the samurai that bonsai farming became a truly widespread tradition. Their image can be found on many tourist souvenirs, clothes, paintings, and of course in Japanese gardens, as well as other public spaces. The bonsai tree is associated with happiness and fortune.

Japanese manga comics

Manga (漫画) is quite simply a Japanese comic book. This form of storytelling is extremely popular in Japan and often brings large profits to the creators of such comics. The most famous stories are frequently made into movies or TV shows and are shown all over the world. There are many different types of manga. Some comics portray rather amusing issues, whereas others explore more serious topics. One of the more popular types of manga is josei-manga (女性漫画). The content of these comics is primarily addressed towards mature girls, as they mainly explore common problems of Japanese girls.

Holy Mount Fuji

Fuji (富士山) is one of the most iconic symbols of Japan. It is not only a mountain but an active volcano as well. It is also the highest peak in the country (3766 m ASL). The fact that is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List serves as a confirmation of its beauty. Unsurprisingly, despite the vastness of the terrain surrounding the mountain, as well as numerous tourist trails in its vicinity, it is rather difficult not to encounter other tourists in the area. During the peak of the tourist season, reaching the summit requires visitors to stand in extremely long queues, but the marvellous view after climbing up there is well worth the hassle. To the Japanese themselves, Fuji is a sacred mountain and every citizen of the Land of the Rising Sun should visit it at least once in their life. Whoever manages to climb to the very top may call himself a great man.

Maneki-neko cat figurines

The Japanese are strongly attached to their traditions, culture, customs, but also superstitions. This is why in Japan one can encounter images of cats almost everywhere. Why cats? Because, according to the Japanese, they bring good luck and prosperity. Citizens of the Land of the Rising Sun are especially fond of maneki-neko(招き猫). It is a figurine of a bobtail cat with a raised paw. This type of figurine is often placed at entrances to restaurants or sanctuaries, where it “welcomes” the visitors, and is also sold in the form of various tourist souvenirs. When visiting Japan, it is a good idea to acquire one of these figurines to see first-hand if the feline luck actually exists.

Origami - the art of folding paper

Similarly to the previously mentioned bonsai tree, Origami (折り紙) originated in China. However, once again, this art form became very popular in Japan and it is there that it started to truly flourish. Therefore, origami is strongly associated with the Land of the Cherry Blossoms. These amazing paper figurines, often arranged in an extraordinary manner, are one of Japan’s signature symbols. When assembling such paper shapes, one should never use scissors, glue or additional decorations. This is the actual phenomenon behind origami art - it is all about creating works of art using only one’s hands, paper and creativity. Special origami museums can also be found throughout Japan.

Crane - a Japanese bearer of good news

The Japanese crane (tsuru - 鶴) is a symbol of happiness, fidelity and longevity. Superstitious Japanese use this symbol on different occasions as a sign of good luck. It is most often encountered in the form of origami and crane figurines often constitute elements of wedding decorations. This symbol is meant to indicate the indissolubility and eternal happiness of the newlyweds. In addition, there is a belief among the Japanese that a person who assembles 1000 origami cranes will have their wish come true.

Daruma - a blind good luck doll

The Japanese also have their very own matryoshka. It is called daruma (ダルマ達磨) and is a type of roly-poly doll, it wobbles when touched, but never falls over and it quickly regains its balance and returns to its original position. This particular trait of the doll serves as a reference to real life and suggests that one can always get up, just like a daruma. However, darumas are blind, i.e. they have eyes but no pupils.

When a Japanese person sets some kind of a goal in their life, for example, a professional or educational one, they paint a pupil on the left eye of the daruma doll, so that it always looks towards this goal. After the goal is attained, the doll’s owner can paint the second pupil on the right eye. Afterwards, the daruma-kuyō ceremony is held, during which the doll is burnt, and the owner can buy a new, bigger one, so that more of their wishes and dreams may be fulfilled.

Summary

There are many interesting customs and superstitions in Japanese culture. Most of them are very positive and concern good luck in people’s lives. Thanks to this, it is undoubtedly easier for the Japanese to overcome various challenges and problems, as they believe that they deserve happiness. Because they have been continually cultivating a bonsai tree for years, assembled more than 1000 origami cranes, or have a maneki-neko cat in their pocket, naturally. Perhaps it would not be such a bad idea to get a little closer to good fortune by using one of the Japanese symbols?

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