JTCO strives for inheritance, creation and development of Japanese traditional culture.

JTCOJapanese Traditional Culture Promotion&Development Organization
日本語 | English
Newsletter Back Number

Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on October 28, 2019
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 107] October 28, 2019

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 107]
October 28, 2019
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Colour:
Enchanting classy colour: Suo (Indian redwood)

:: 1. Seasonal Colour

Here is a part of prose from passage 57 in "The Pillow Book (Makura no
Soshi, a book about court nobles) "completed in early 11c written by Sei

"Yoki ieno Chumon akete Birogeno Kurumano shiroku kiyogenaruni Suono
shitasudare Nioi itokiyoranite Shijini uchikaketarukoso Medetakere."

When I open the back gate in a noble person's house, it is totally
fascinating to see the bullock cart. It is covered with white Biroge
(strips of Areca catechu palm leaves) beautifully and also has the
most graceful Suo coloured (red purple) clothes blinds hooked on a

In Japan, it is getting cooler in the mornings and evenings and people
can gradually feel the arrival of autumn. We see people in dark green
or dark red garments in the streets during this season. The Suo colour
is a slightly blackish red, which is made from the Fabaceae family plant
which has the same name of the plant, "Suo" colour.

In the opening paragraph of the Pillow Book, a bullock cart called
"Kara guruma" was depicted which was restricted to being ridden by only
royal families and regents in the Heian period (9c). Biro is a palm
plant leaf which was highly valued in Japan at that time as it had to
be imported from Southern Asia. Biro leaves that had turned to white
after the drying process were used to thatch the roof of the carts.
It was surely incredibly beautiful to see the contrast between white
Biro thatching and Suo coloured long clothes blind reaching to the ground.

The fabric dyed with the Suo plant still exists today, however, it is
usually pale pink or possibly dark pink. The Suo colour had various
tones in ancient times too, but the proper Suo colour must have been
regarded by people as very deep red like Burgundy wine red we say
today according to the description in Konjaku Monogatarishu (Anthology
of Tales in 9c), with the sentence "A lot of blood in Suo colour flood".
In the old days when people could only use dye from nature, they needed
a lot of Suo plant to dye for deep red. Garments in deep red were
obviously very expensive so only eminent nobles were allowed to wear
them, especially the Suo colour called "Fukaki Suo" which was one of
the restricted colours that only high ranked nobles were permitted to

Suo plant is a medium height tree of the Fabaceae family which grows
in southern Asia. It was originally brought into Japan as a medicine
during the Asuka period in the 6th century. The Chinese name "Soho"
became the Japanese name "Suo". It is called "Suoboku" or "Soboku" when
used as a medicine and is said to work as a hemostat and also helps
with amenorrhea. There was a description in The Tale of Genji (11c),
"There is a wooden decoration stand dyed with Suo next to a rosewood
box." Suo was used as a dye for not only for paper or fabric but also
wooden crafts as an alternative to expensive rosewood in reddish brown.

Court ladies in the Heian period wore a set of garments called "Junihitoe"
which are many kimonos worn one over another. As a Suo coloured kimono
was often chosen as one of the combinations, it was clear that Suo
color is an essential colour for them to arrange their "Junihitoe".
In French study, it was proved that a waitress in a red uniform gets
more tips from male customers compared to other colours. Red must be
a colour that enchants us the most, don't you think?

We can buy clothes in any colours by a reasonable price today due to
the benefits of chemical dyes. This autumn, why don't you wear deep
red clothes which make your look more attractive?

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

Copyright by Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion and
Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

To subscribe/unsubscribe to our Newsletter, or to change your
registered email address, please visit:

JTCO Newsletter "Delivery of Seasonal Tradition"Experience Japan with you tour guide!Find us@Facebook