Fri, Oct 18, 2019

Charging on Japan-style: Traditional patterns adorn Brave Blossoms’ jersey

TSUMUGU Project

The Brave Blossoms (Japan rugby team) have reached the quarterfinals at the Rugby World Cup for the first time and will be facing South Africa on Sunday (Oct. 20). The hosts are now a force to be reckoned with, the media say, and a part of their strength could be hidden in the jersey bearing the cherry blossom emblem they wear. You may be wondering: What does that have anything to do with Japan’s traditional culture (which is what this web portal is all about)? Well, for sure, we are not talking about the cutting-edge technology involved and the material used to develop the handsome jersey. Rather, we would like to direct your attention to the hidden designs and patterns you will find when you take a closer look.

Uniform adorned with auspicious omen motifs, courtly motifs

The Japan team’s official uniforms have been developed and manufactured by Canterbury of New Zealand Japan Inc. – a group company of apparel maker Goldwin Inc. (Tokyo) – since 1997, under contract with the Japan Rugby Football Union. The first thing that comes to mind when we think about Japan’s jersey is the red and white stripes, the colors coming from the two-tone Hinomaru, or the national flag of Japan. To add something special for the world cup this year, they adorned the jersey with kissho-monyo, or auspicious omen motifs, and yusoku-monyo, or courtly motifs.

Underneath the Japanese flag on the left shoulder, you will find the geometrical asanoha-monyo, or hemp-leaf pattern. This rather popular pattern is known to have been used in ukiyo-e paintings by artists such as Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Toyokuni in the Edo period (1603-1867). They say the pattern was often used on clothes for the newly born, wishing for the baby to grow up quickly and healthily, as would hemp.

Asanoha-monyo (Hemp-leaf pattern)

Another impressive pattern you will find on the jersey is the seigaiha, or waves of the blue ocean, which represents everlasting calm and peace. The costume worn in the gagaku (Imperial court music and dance) performance of “Seigaiha” is said to be its namesake. In a famous scene from Murasaki Shikibu’s “Tale of Genji,” the protagonist Hikaru Genji and his friend To-no-chujo dance the “Seigaiha.”

Seigaiha (Waves of the blue ocean)

Other traditional fabric patterns are neatly embedded as well: kikko-monyo, or tortoiseshell pattern, which denotes longevity; the noble yotsubishi, or four diamonds; yagasuri, or stylized arrow feather pattern; sayagata, or gossamer pattern. Masayuki Ishizuka, the director in charge of developing the jersey, revealed that eight patterns are used in total. Another pattern used is the auspicious tatewaku-monyo, which is a group of curvy lines resembling rising steam.

“We decided to gather auspicious patterns wishing for Japan’s victory,” Ishizuka said.

Sayagata (Gossamer pattern)
Reaching for the top with bushido

The red and white stripes also evolved this year. To compete with the rugby powerhouses, the jersey was designed with V-shaped stripes evoking the image of the maedate crest that adorns the front of a kabuto, or samurai warrior’s helmet.

The maedate crest of a kabuto

Ishizuka: “They say bushido is about rectitude, courage, benevolence, respect, honesty, honor and loyalty. We think these seven virtues concur with the core values of rugby, which are integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect. Without these virtues, we have no right to play rugby or wear the jersey. That is the spirit we wanted to imbue the jersey with. Our aim was to help Japan win by arousing the bushido spirit.”

The stripes are V-shaped on the front, but on the back are lined upside down in the shape of Mt. Fuji. This was in order to create the effect of making the torso of a Japanese player seem larger than it actually is from the front, while visually deceiving the opponent coming from behind into thinking that the Japanese player is running much faster.

“The players say the jersey looks handsome and fits nicely,” Masayuki Ishizuka of Canterbury of New Zealand Japan Inc. said in an interview in Tokyo.

Three different types of jerseys were developed for different positions varying the material and paper patterns. Ishizuka thinks they have created a rugby uniform that fits very nicely and makes the players feel at ease on the field. “It’s the best jersey the Japan team has ever seen,” he said.

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