Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Heian Colour Combinations, or Kasane no Irome

There are a lot of different colour combinations for Heian garb. They varied from season to season, for special festivals and occasions, and so on. Wearing the wrong pattern in the wrong season could be devastating to a lady's reputation, as there was great emphasis placed on aesthetic sensibilities.

This list is by no means exhaustive, it's just a small sampling. There are great lists on Sengoku Daimyo , Fuyuya, Immortal Geisha, and Reconstructing History (archived), that give a good number of colour combinations. I haven't included everything from those two lists, but I have endeavoured to include any kasane that I've found visual backup for, so you can see how it looks in the flesh. I've also included when they'd be appropriate to wear. When I refer to a month, it's in the lunar calendar.

A Short Note on Colours

There are certain colours that are very specific, and the English translation isn't very exact. Reconstructing History's old kasane page had a great solution - translate it to a Pantone colour. So, to give an idea of some of the more exact colours, I've done the same thing. Here are some of the more common ones -

Aoi - blue leaning teal

PMS 328

Moegi - sprout green

PMS 361

Ki - pure yellow

Yellow 2X

Yamabuki - golden yellow
PMS 109

Kuchiba - decaying leaves
PMS 1385

Kobai - plum pink

PMS 205

 Kurenai - orange-scarlet

PMS 179

Suo - maroon

PMS 187

Forbidden Colours
Some colours were called Imperial Colours, and certain shades of them were reserved strictly for the royal family.

koki murasaki  - royal purple
PMS 2766

Japanese royal purple is a blue-leaning purple that was reserved entirely for the royal family. Only a Queen or Princess could wear koki murasaki, but other shades of purple, such as lavender or grape, were allowed.

Kurenai - orange-scarlet
PMS 179

The orange-scarlet kurenai is alsoconsidered a forbidden colour, though its use was not as strictly regulated as that of koki murasaki. Most of the royal women (sisters, aunts, cousins, etc) are mentioned wearing kurenai, and permission to wear kurenai could be bestowed upon favoured courtiers. As a result, most of the Queen's household, her attendants, and her friends, could wear kurenai. These robes would, however, be made of a lesser weave of silk. 

(All colour information is courtesy of Reconstructing History's irome no kasane page.)

I haven't included colour names for the following kasane, just a small table with some colour samples.

Examples of Kasane no Irome: 

Ume Gasane (plum layers) (Gosechi [middle of 11th month] through spring)

Ume gasane is one of the most disputed kasane, and has many variants. From Immortal Geisha:

"The layering of Ume Gasane, with its many possible variants, may be the most disputable of kasane schemes. The "basic" coordinate can have a hitoe of either dark violet or blue-green, which is the maximum variation for most kasane with alternate colors- but it becomes more complex thanks to commentary from the Empress Tashi, who writes that the top three layers may all be plum-pink or scarlet- and adds the comment that the hitoe ought to be scarlet-pink instead of the usual blue-green or dark violet. ("Colours for a Court Lady's Dress", cited by Dalby.)"

Ume gasane
(layered plum)

Kigiku (yellow chrysanthemums) (winter)
(yellow chrysanthemum)

Hana Tachibana (orange blossom) (from the fourth month) 

Hana tachibana
(orange blossom)

Yuki no Shita (beneath the snow) (Gosechi through spring)

Yuki no shita
(beneath the snow)

Murasaki no usuyou (paling purple) (8th month - 15th month)

Murasaki no usuy├┤
(paling purple)

(Worn with a white uwagi and green karaginu)

Kaede Momiji (maple) (winter)

Kaede momiji
(reverse chrysanthemum)

Fuji (wisteria)(fourth lunar month)



Nadeshiko (Dianthus) (fourth lunar month)


As I said before, this is just a small sampling of all the kasane out there. These were some of the ones that I was able to match to ensembles that were on display at the Kyoto Costume Museum in 2008, when they were marking the 1,000th birthday of The Tale of Genji, the world's first novel. These photos are courtesy of Crimson Griffin on Flickr.

If anyone out there has other ensembles that they've matched to known kasane, let me know, and I'll add it to this list! :)


More kasane have been matched to photo examples! Check out Part 2 for more pretties. 


  1. Wow,learned more in this one article than I have ever about Japanese Kimonos. I knew they wore layers and color had symbolism, though I didn't think that it was season dependent. Wow just wonderful display by the museum, and the graphics showing the layers. Just awesome!

  2. Thank you so much for this information! This is an EXCELLENT resource for irome and Heian fashion aesthetics. I hope that you find more information in the future and that you do more posts about the Heian style. Thank you again!

    1. There will definitely be more Heian research in the future. :D I'm researching Heian era arts right now, like fan painting and tamari embroidery, so there will certainly be posts for that in the near future, as well as garb posts as I delve into making my own sets. :D
      I'm glad you like the article!


  3. I'm struggling with the timing for each of the patterns. When exactly was murasaki no usuyo worn? I'd guess from August since that would be the eighth month but the fifteenth??? Even the old calendars don't seem to have that many. Do you have any information on that at all?

    1. The calendar is something I've always struggled with, too, the Heian calendar is very confusing to me. I do know that the New Year is whenever the sun enters the sign of the fish, which is between Jan. 20 - Feb 19, and extra months were added if the sun wasn't in the sign of the fish by Feb 19. The 8th month could be anywhere from August to October, it just would depend on the year. :-/ Perhaps the 15th month notation was a mistranslation from the Japanese source, but I couldn't tell you whether or not that's really so.