An abundance of symbols and signs have existed throughout the course of Japanese history. These symbols hold importance in Japanese mythology and iconography.
At times beautiful yet frightful and mysterious mythical creatures also serve as Japanese symbols of strength. Japanese symbols give insight into Japan‘s history and what is unique about the nation. They also reflect different aspects of its cultural life.
Here are various Japanese symbols of strength that have long influenced Japanese culture in a multitude of ways.
Listed below are the top 9 most important Japanese Symbols of Strength:
Table of Contents
1. The Folding Fan
In Japan, there is deep symbolism associated with the folding fan. Folding fans are seen as symbols of prosperity, as when a fan opens, it’s seen as similar to a flower blooming. Japanese fans also symbolize the widening of one’s wealth and fortune.
A fan starts from a single wooden strip and branches out in various directions when opened. This represents the various paths that lead us through life after a single point of birth. At times, folding fans have odd numbers or patterns printed on them.
Odd numbers are considered lucky, while colors and pictures printed on fans symbolize particular meanings. Gold-colored fans are thought to attract wealth, while white and red are thought to be lucky colors. In Japanese culture, folding fans are widely gifted on birthdays and as gifts. (1)
Rice is a powerful religious and social symbol in Japan. Rice, along with other foods like salt and sake, were food gifts offered to deities. Rice was a supreme offering as the whiteness of the rice represented the image of the deity and divine purity.
Cooked rice was also served at the ancestor shelf called the Butsudan. It was thought that those sharing the same prepared food of the family shared a common bond. This bonded both the living and the dead together, in this world and also in the otherworld. (2)
In Japan, foxes or Kitsune have strong symbolic representations. Foxes have an important mythical status. They represent a symbol of cunning. They are also known as powerful possessors of good fortune and high intelligence. In mythical Japanese culture, foxes had the ability to shapeshift into human form.
Due to the close relationship both foxes and humans shared within the realm the ancient Japanese mythology, foxes are often portrayed as loyal companions, faithful friends, and also lovers. (3) As red foxes and humans lived close together on the Islands of Japan, countless myths and legends surrounding the Kitsune were developed in Japan.
The Kitsune were also thought to be skillful magicians and could use their power for many purposes. At times they were also viewed as supernatural or mischievous spirits. They were thought to be connected to their patron goddess Inari Okami. She was the goddess of fertility, rice, sake, tea, agriculture as well and merchants and industry. (4)
4. Chrysanthemum Flower
In Japan, the Chrysanthemum’s yellow flower is symbolic of the sun and immortality. The Chrysanthemum is also the national symbol of Japan, and the yearly festival of flowers is celebrated in its honor. (5)
The Chrysanthemum, also called ‘kiku’ in Japanese, was first introduced in the 5th century by the Chinese. The Japanese imperial family took a particular liking to this flower. The image of the Chrysanthemum on their official seals and on their throne.
This was the reason the imperial family acquired the name the ‘chrysanthemum throne.’ This flower remains a symbol of the Japanese emperor even today. This flower represents nobility, rejuvenation, and longevity in Japan. (6)
5. Bonsai Tree
The Japanese word ‘Bon’ refers to a shallow container, and ‘sai’ means a tree planted in a vessel. The art of growing Bonsai trees was introduced to Japan 1200 years ago. The Bonsai tree is revered and honored within Japanese Zen Buddhism for its strong symbolism.
The Bonsai tree symbolizes various aspects of the natural world, such as harmony, simplicity, balance, and age. Each part of the Bonsai tree holds importance and is symbolic in Japanese society and culture. The way the tree grows and its design shows balance and stability. It usually grows in the shape of an isosceles triangle that reflects strength and equilibrium.
The twigs, barks, and leaves of the Japanese Bonsai show harmony. A bonsai would contain both smooth and sharp edges as well as young and old aspects. Both gardeners and artists would make sure the Bonsai represents nature‘s harmony.
This tree also symbolizes the various ages and stages of human life. The Bonsai is also a symbol of simplicity as it’s grown in an earthen pot without complicated designs or ornaments. (7)
Dragons have held significance in many world cultures, legends, and mythologies. In many eastern cultures, dragons have been depicted as wise and powerful guardians of people.
They are the protectors against universal dangers and impart wisdom to those they are pleased with. Japanese dragons are usually linked to rainfall and the world’s water bodies. They were thought to control the harvest and thus symbolized prosperity and wealth. (8)
There are two basic types of Japanese dragons, the Japanese Water Dragon and the Japanese Sky dragon. The Japanese water dragon is a water deity that is usually found within bodies of water or in the rain. In Japanese, the word water dragon is known as Mizuchi.
The influence of this dragon seems to have stemmed from a Chinese dragon. It is depicted as a wingless serpent with clawed feet. The Japanese air dragon is usually described as found in the sky or clouds. (9)
7. The Zen Circle
A sacred symbol in Zen Buddhism, the Zen circle or the Enso is also sometimes known as the circle of togetherness. (10) A popular symbol in Buddhism and Japanese calligraphy, it is created with a simple brushstroke that forms an enclosed circle.
The Enso is also known as the infinity circle, the Japanese circle, and the circle of enlightenment. The Enso symbol dates back to the 6th century where it was depicted for the first time as an out-of-shape circle. The Enso circle represents the idea of immense space that lacks nothing and holds nothing in excess.
This symbol indicates satisfaction with what one has. It also implies being empty yet completely full and also depicts no beginning or end. The Enso symbolizes complex Buddhist ideals through a simple minimalist brush stroke. (11)
8. Daruma Dolls
The Daruma doll is a traditional Japanese doll that is modeled after Bodhidharma, who was the founder of the Zen tradition of Buddhism. These classic dolls vary in color and design depending on which region they are crafted in and upon the preference of the artist.
Though traditionally they are red in color and depict a bearded man. The Daruma dolls are rich in symbolism within Japanese culture. They are seen as a symbol of good luck and perseverance.
Today Daruma dolls are bought at the beginning of every Japanese New Year. It is believed that they help you achieve your goals. Daruma dolls can be widely found in Japanese stores, restaurants, and homes. The Daruma dolls are sold with wide, blank eyes.
The concept is that the owner has to paint the pupils themselves. Once you decide on your goal, you paint one eye to show your commitment. Once you achieve the goal, you paint the other eye. (12)
9. The Sun
The sun is an iconic Japanese symbol that is derived from Amaterasu, the mythological sun goddess, from the Shinto religion. According to mythology, Amaterasu founded Japan 2700 years ago.
All the emperors of Japan that followed were known to be ‘Sons of the Sun’ due to their status of being the direct descendants of the goddess. During Japan’s Edo period, feudal warlords saw the ‘Rising sun flag’ as a symbol of good fortune and tradition.
This flag is depicted as a red circle on a white canvas with wide red rays beaming outward. (13)
Japanese culture is deeply rooted in tradition, history, and mythology. Symbols of strength are an important part of the region’s culture, with many ancient and contemporary symbols proving this fact.
Which of these Japanese Symbols of Strength were you already aware of? Let us know in the comments below.
- Rice Representations and Reality. Asian Folklore Studies. Vol.66, No.1/2. Peter Knecht. Nanzan University.2007.