What is the meaning behind kimono patterns?

Tsuru | 鶴 | Cranes

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If you've spent enough time around parks and bodies of water in Japan, you will see your fill of cranes. These majestic creatures are a common sight. Here in Kyoto, you can sometimes eat a sandwich on the bank of Kamo River only a few feet from a crane that's standing around, thinking about life.

Two hand-painted cranes walking through a grassy marsh or river looking for food.

The story goes that cranes can live for 1,000 years, so these are used to wish longevity for the wearer, oftentimes being used for weddings. A pair of cranes signifies a long marriage, so you may see pairs of cranes on the uchikake you're looking at, or possibly on a tomesode, which is a common wear for wedding guests.

Cranes are also said to mate for life, further expressing wishes for a long, forever-surviving marriage. One could say that a pair of cranes is a symbol of marital bliss.

A beautifully embroidered crane flying above a grouping of flowers and pine trees.

Cranes were seen as a representation of the nobility, seeking out fresh water and living their lives away from the common people. Nowadays, though, cranes are seen on kimonos worn by everyone.

Silver and gold cranes flying above a gold-lined silhouette of the ocean.

Another common type of crane pattern is tobizuru (とびづる/飛鶴), which is simply a flock of cranes flying through the air.

Cranes flying over a river motif filled with flowers and butterflies.

There are a few species of cranes in the area, but the only one that breeds in Japan is the red-crowned crane. As such, this is usually the only species that's depicted on kimonos. Herons also sometimes show up in patterns and can easily be confused with cranes, but the red cap and black accenting on the feathers in these examples will show you which is which.

Two cranes made of 24 karat gold-lined threading looking off into the distance.

Two cranes facing each other and appearing to be engaged in a ritual.

Adding to the crane pattern is maizuru (まいづる/舞鶴), which is of a pair of cranes, with one having its mouth open and the other having its mouth closed. This could be inspired by mating rituals of cranes. This pattern is oftentimes depicted in circles.

On that note, a depiction of a crane or cranes in a circle is known as tsurumaru (つるまる/鶴丸). This will oftentimes be used for family crests, but sometimes adorns kimonos as a general aspect of the overall design.

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