Japanese Culture and Daily Life
To the teacher : Please conduct the activities of this series before reading the text. After that, read the text with the students, and help them to compare their own awareness of colors with the perceptions of color in Japan as described in the text, noticing the differences and similarities.

*Iro means " color " and iroiro means " various " in Japanese.

How many colors are there in the rainbow ? Obviously, the actual number of colors in the rainbow does not differ, but in Japan, it is said there are seven, in the United States, six, in Germany five, and in Russia, the answer seems to differ from one person to another.
In addition, specific colors have associations with particular things. For example, most Japanese think of apples as red. Colors may be linked to certain things and images, as well as to expression of certain feelings.
"Red," for instance, in Japan evokes images of auspicious or happy occasions symbolized by the colors red and white ( koohaku ). Such images and associations of colors, however, are not necessarily universal. Differences in modes of expression and images emerge as a result of many factors including the natural environment, social conditions, and traditional culture. In this issue, A Day in the Life offers materials and examples for considering the differences and similarities in the language and role of colors as reflected in Japanese language and culture.

Photos : Hongo Jin ( 3,5,6,8,12,13,16,17,19,24,25 ), Kodansha Publishers ( 9,10,Juunihitoe )


1. Taiyoo no iro
The color of the sun
If you ask "What color is the sun" most Japanese will answer, "Red." What color do you draw the sun? And what kinds of things do you associate with the color red?

2. Hi no maru
The "rising sun"; Japan's national flag
Japan's flag consists of a red sun on a white ground. Flags have been used from long ago as symbols of a nation and its people. One can get a glimpse of a country's culture by seeing how colors, not to mention motifs, are used to express geographical location, religious beliefs, ways of thinking, and traditions. The round red ball on Japan's flag represents the sun, but for other countries, red can represent blood, revolution, independence, courage, soldiers, love, communism, fire, and zeal. What colors are used in the flag of your country? What do the colors in the flag signify ?

3. Koohaku no mizuhiki
Red and white gift wrap string ornaments
Mizuhiki are made by rolling thin strips of paper into strings which are then covered with glue and dried.
Red and white are colors used to decorate and enhance places where auspicious and happy occasions are held. The photograph shows shuugi-bukuro , gift wrap string ornaments for weddings and other auspicious occasions.

4. Akachan
A newborn baby is bright red, thus the name.

5. Koohaku manjuu
Red and white bean-jam sweets
Pairs of red and white manjuu are frequently presented as gifts to guests attending wedding receptions, and other auspicious commemorative events.

6. Sekihan
Red-bean rice
Rice cooled with azuki beans. Like koohaku manjuu, sekihan is a dish freqently served on auspicious occasions.

7. Koohaku taikoo
Red and white team competition
Competitors at elementary schools and of other groups are usually divided into "red" and "white" teams. When large groups are divided into several teams, other colors such as blue, yellow, and green may be used, but whenever there are two sides, they are usually called the "red" and "white" teams.

8. Daruma
Doll representing the meditating figure of Daruma (Bodhidharma), the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. The base of the figure is weighted so that even when toppled over, the doll stands upright again. The eyes are simply a pair of white circles, as here. You make a wish and paint in one eye. When the wish comes true, you can celebrate by painting in the other.
Akaku naru : Embarrassment, to blush
Makka ni natte okoru : Grow red with anger
Akaji : Red ink, deficit spending, loss (cf., kuroji : black ink, profits)
Aka no tanin : A complete or perfect stranger


9. Yuki
A country snowscape.

10. shiromuku
Wedding kimono
Wedding kimono used in traditional style ceremony.

Wedding dress
Many brides in recent years are married in Western-style wedding dresses, but some wear the traditional shiromuku for the marriage ceremony and change into a wedding dress for the wedding reception.
Hakushi ni modosu ( lit., "go back to the blank page" ) : Means going back to the begining, starting at "square one," etc.
Shiroi me de miru ( lit., "look with the whites of one's eyes" ) : To scorn, treat coldly


12. Sumi
Black ink
Calligraphy is brushed on pure white paper with pitch black ink. The kanji sumi consists of the kanji (black) and the radical (earth).

14. Kami and me
Hair and eyes
There are various shades of black, but "black" figures in many words and expressions referring to hair and eyes.
Kurokami (Black hair) :
Synonymous for "beautiful hair" of a woman
Shirome and kurome ( lit., "white eye, black eye") : White of the eye and iris (and pupil) of the eye

13. Mo
Black and white are the usual colors of mourning today. This tradition goes back to the formal wear frock coats introduced from Europe in the late nineteenth century. Before that, mourning attire was white or made of undyed linen fabric. The photograph shows a kooden (condolence gift) envelope stringed by black and white mizuhiki.

Shirokuro o tsukeru
( lit., "draw the line between black and white" ) :Clarify whether right or wrong, good or bad
Me o shirokuro saseru : To roll one's eyes in fright, surprise, or anguish
Haraguroi ( lit., "black belly" ) : Ill-intentioned, evilhearted


15. Himawari

16. Tampopo

Flowers entice pollen-carrying insects with their bright yellow petals .

17. Fumikiri
Railway crossing

18. Kodomono booshi
Schoolchildren's caps

The Japan Industrial Standards ( JIS ) code designates yellow and yellow-and-black stripes as signifying warning. Yellow is used at railway crossings to indicate caution, school children's hats are bright yellow to increase visibility for motorists, and the bumpy lines installed in station floors and sidewalks to guide the visually impaired are yellow.

Kuchibashi ga kiiroi ( lit,. "beak is yellow" ) : Refers to someone who is inexperienced or young
Kiiroi koe ( lit., "yellow voice" ) : The shrill voice of women and children

19. Aozora and Umi
Blue sky and sea
20. Ao and Midori
Blue and green
The new, young foliage of spring is called shinryoku ( lit., "new green" ) or aoba ( lit., "blue leaves" ). This usage of ao when referring the new spring foliage also suggests "youth," "newness," "immaturity," as seen in the words for "youth" and "young man" : seishun , seinen , aokusai , and aonisai .


22. Seifuku
School uniform

23. Kendoogi
Kendoo togs
Traditional blue fabric was colored using indigo dyes, and even today indigo blue is a common color in Japanese clothing. The suits (called "recruit suits") worn by university students visiting potential employers for job interviews as well as the standard attire of office workers is often dark blue of various shades.
Aoku naru ( to grow pale ) : To pale when ill or stricken by fear or worry


24. Ryokucha
Green tea
Green tea is made by a process that preserves the green color of the tea leaves. ( Cha, or tea, as a general term is associated with the color " brown. " )
25. Ryokuooshoku yasai
Lit., "green and yellow" vegetables; colored vegetables
Vegetables whose edible parts contain 600 or more micrograms of carotene per 100 grams, such as spinach, carrots, squash, and tomatoes, come under this category. When packing a bentoo lunch ( see photo ), care to include foods of different colors helps assure a nutritional balance. Red can be represented by vegetables like tomatoes and carrots, green by leafy vegetables or asparagas, and yellow by egg or citrus fruit.

26. Kabuki no jooshikimaku
Kabuki theater curtain
Broad stripes of green, black, and persimmon orange decorate the main curtain on the kabuki stage.

27. Midori no hi

Greenery Day
Green is the color widely used to mean "vegetation," "trees" and "foliage" in general. April 29th, the birthday of the Emperor Shoowa, who was especially devoted to nature and natural science, is celebrated as a national holiday dedicated to gratitude for nature's bounties and spiritual enrichment through appreciation and enjoyment of nature.

Juunihitoe ( 12-layered kimono ) : The costume of high-ranking ladies-in-waiting in the court from the Heian period ( 710-94 ) onward consisted of 12 or more layers. Colors passed down from olden times often come from the names of flowers and plants. Various hues of pink, for example, include sakura ( cherry blossom or pale pink ), momo no hana ( peach blossom or bright pink ), koobai ( dark pink plum pink ). Many tints of green are named after plants : wakakusa is the bright lush green of new grass in spring, aodake is the bright green of new growth bamboo, and oitake is the dark, grayish green of the mature bamboo trunk. Other color names come from plants grown specifically for dyestuffs such as benibana ( safflower ). One of the most favored colors of the Heian period was the bright yellow of the yamabuki flowers of a variety of rose ( Kerria Japonica ).


Part I Coloring
Paint the picture below with the colors you like.

Part II Q and A

What is your favorite color ?

Why do you like that color ?

3. Fill in the blanks below.
( 1 ) Write in the names of the crayon colors in Japanese in the boxes and English on the line__________ .
( 2 ) Write in the name and a picture of the things you associate with those colors ( English or Japanese )
( 3 ) Write in what you feel or the images you think of for those colors ( e.g., red passion, celebration, etc. ) and do the same for ( 2 ).

4. Compare your chart with other students'. Are there a lot of similarities ? How much difference is there ?

5. In your country, what colors are identified as "happy" or auspicious colors ? Which are ill-omened or ominous colors ?

6. Are there colors in your country or local region that have special meaning ? What colors are those ? What meaning do they have ?

Original text : The Japan Forum Newsletter No.17 "A day in The Life" June 2000.

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