Red in Japanese culture

The color red has traditionally been used for Noh stage’s curtain, Hannmaku. In China, red refers to fire, but it is quite different in Japan. Japanese red suggests exorcism and beauty, which are unique to Japanese culture. Today, I’d like to show you the colorful world of Japanese culture!



All classes of Japanese people admire Japanese red.

The history of red in Japan traces back to ancient times. The world’s oldest earthenware, Jomon and other woodenware made in the same era are painted with a lacquer called ‘sekishitsu’ (mixture of cinnabar and lacquer).

In Japan, the graveyards for those in power are called Kofun. In some of these Kofun, pictures are painted with an Indian red made of iron oxide. This red was meant to protect the body of the man in power from evil. The red that can be seen on a Shrine’s gate (Torii) is called akani. Each shrine uses a slightly different red, but most shrines adopt this red for their gate. This red protects against rust because of the cinnabar mercury in it and is meant as protection from evil and disaster. The red also increases the power of God.


The secret of and the traditional beauty of red

When lipstick became popular, a more vivid red called beni, or deep red was created. Women used to pick up safflowers for noble women so that they could wear lipstick. These women would feel pity because they would poke themselves on the safflower’s thorns and could not wear lipstick, as it was for noble women only. Safflowers were later named “Suetsumuhana”(末摘花), after the pity that was felt by these women. This flower is still picked today and inherits old Japanese traditions and protects the beauty of Japanese women. If you are visiting Japan, please take a look at the lipstick made from Japanese safflowers, or even try picking some safflowers to experience old world traditions.

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miki iwai

miki iwai


I love Japanese traditional culture and travelling all over Japan. I also like to see Noh performances, doing calligraphy, and reading/making Japanese poems called “Tanka.” Through writing, I’d like to introduce a unique culture that only exists in Japan.