Japanese four season tartans — For a long time, I’ve been searching for menswear items that incorporate some sort of Japanese heritage in them. Maybe I’m just not looking hard enough, but it’s been tough to find here in the United States and searching Japanese sites runs me up against a brick wall since I don’t know the language.
Imagine my glee in discovering that just three years ago when Scottish-tartan designer David Gill had designed a series of four tartans for Japan, each one specific to a season. Gill’s designed more than 60 tartans, some for other nations and a Tartans for Africa series.
For the Japanese Four Seasons series, he collaborated with Shizue Melvin, a businesswoman in Japan, who he met after being commissioned by her father-in-law to design the national tartan of Japan, which combines elements of the Japanese and Scottish national flags and ended up being the winter tartan (more on that in a bit).
The spring seasonal tartan — the sakura — drew inspiration from the annual blooming of the Japanese cherry blossom trees. You can definitely see the connection with the usage of pink for the blossoms, green for the leaves and green for the branches. It’s a perfect seasonal pattern to wear.
The summer tartan — the chou chou — is in part a reference toward the Giacomo Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly”, which is believed to be set in Nagasaki during the 1890s and featured the title character nicknamed after her signature kimono adorned with butterflies. The butterfly also features in samurai kamons, such as the Taira clan, which were emblems used to identify themselves in battle.
For the autumn tartan — the kiku — is so named after the chrysanthemum, which is another important cultural flower in Japan. It’s the basis for the Japanese Imperial mon crest and there’s even National Chrysanthemum Day, which is also known at the Festival of Happiness. The festival occurs on September 9th, tying in perfectly with a fall tartan, which features seasonal colors and hues.
Finally, the winter tartan — the nihon — was the first tartan developed and symbolizes the shared histories of Japan and an influential Scotsman.
As it turns out, Scotland does have an interesting historical connection to Japan through a Scotsman by the name of Thomas Blake Glover, who was nicknamed “The Scottish Samurai”, for his role in the Meiji Restoration and overthrowing the militaristic Tokugawa Shogunate and restoring the Emperor to power. After the war, he helped with industrialization efforts in Japan and even consulted with Mitsubishi. He developed the first mechanized coal mine and introduced the first trains to island nation. Oh, and he founded the Kirin Beer Company.
It’s my hope to be able to source some fabric of each tartan and perhaps make some neckties, pocket squares and even a pair of odd trousers. It’d be great to wear a tartan that actually ties back into my cultural heritage.