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Japanese Traditional Patterns in OKURA

When Hotel Okura was established, the theme for accommodations was “Creation of Beauty through Japanese-style Architecture”. As such, a variety of beautiful, Japanese time-honored patterns were arranged in a modern fashion and incorporated into the design of the exterior, interior, and furnishings of the hotel. We will introduce these patterns that, while never feeling “old-fashioned”, exude a noble and relaxed ambience in a series of articles over the course of the coming year through May of 2012.
※An excerpt from “Japanese Patterns and Hotel Okura” published in 1982

Ranka(Orchid)

The noble orchid is a universal favorite. We have named the main bar “The Orchid,”and decorated its rosewood walls with several orchid-shaped frosted lights.

Kikko-mon (The Tortoise-shell Pattern)

It would have been strange if the geometrically perfect hexagon of the tortoise shell pattern had escaped designers’ notice.
Seldom used alone, Kikko-mon makes better patterns when arranged collectively. Sometimes a four-petal flower design may be incorporated in the heart of a hexagon. This is called Hanabishi-Kikko, or a flower-shaped rhombus. In the Orient, the tortoise, together with the crane, symbolizes longevity. Thus the tortoise-shell pattern is believed to stand for long life, auspiciousness, and perfection.
Kikko-mon was first popularized in the Heian Period. One of the most notable legacies of that period and a characteristically indigenous literary work, Heike Nokyo, a Buddhist scripture, has brilliant colored rhombi on the cover of one of the volumes. You will find it at Itsukushima Shrine, Hiroshima Prefecture. The pattern gained popular acceptance among the ordinary people in recent times, and you see it now on such common objects as chinaware.

Kyokusui-no-Niwa (The Winding River Garden)

During the Heian Period the Imperial Palace in Kyoto held on the third day of March each year a festival (of dolls) called the Banquet of the Winding River.
Men of letters stood on the banks of a winding stream. As sake cups floated down-stream, each man was expected to compose a poem before he picked up a cup to drink from it.
This was the game played at the banquet.
Our roof garden is a replica of the ancient Winding River Garden.

Kasumidana-gata(The Floating-Layers-of-Fog Pattern)

The art of adopting nature flourished first mostly in paintings, but from the Muromachi Period, it found its new expression in architecture. In the side-alcove of an orthodox Japanese room you may see two shelves stretching at different levels from either side and overlapping each other in the center. A pair of such shelves is called Chigaidana.
Although a decorative piece of furniture, it also serves to hold one's personal trinkets. The overlapping shelves suggest to us layers of fog seen from a distance. The Chigaidana in the dressing room, called Nakano-chaya, of Shugakuin Detached Palace is considered the greatest masterpiece in this category.

Hishi-mon(The Diamond Pattern)

The “diamond” in this case refers naturally to the shape, not the gem. Had we better say “rhomb?” At any rate, the patterns occupied an important place among the several patterns used at the Imperial Court during the Heian Period. Since then a number of variations and adaptations of the Diamond Pattern has developed. After the Kamakura Period it assumed further importance as a family emblem, and following the Momoyama Period there were many derivations of the original family emblem.
One of the many variations of Hishi-mon is Matsukawabishi. This is what we may call the “Triple Diamond Pattern.” It came into vogue during the Momoyama and the Edo Periods when it was used on clothes and craft articles.
Bold attempts were made to further vary the pattern by sitting the triple diamond by sharp lines as if flashes of lightning had struck it. A pattern called Tsujiga-hara is an example of this.

Koshi(The Latticework)

The lattice is a simple openwork structure of crossed stripes of wood. The typical Japanese latticework has been seen in shutters and ceiling of shrines and temples. The shutter was later replaced by the sliding door. It was hinged to the lintel and pushed up to open.
We at Hotel Okura made it our basic policy to revive the classical and indigenous architectural art. Under this policy the original Japanese latticework has been used extensively. A typical example is the lattice shutters seen on the walls of the grand banquet hall. You will observe latticework in two straight lines, making a sharp contrast with the colorful murals. They also serve to embrace the huge hall. Look above and there again you see a variation of the lattice pattern. The partitions on the balcony of your room are also of a lattice pattern.

Namakokabe(Sea Cucumber Wall)

The exterior walls of Hotel Okura have attracted much attention, for they are peculiarly Japanese in their dignified and graceful way. This type of wall plaster is called Namakokabe.
You see similar walls on the rural houses in Izu Peninsula in the east and on the old residences of Kurashiki City and in the towns around the Inland Sea.
These walls are made first by placing flat tiles in a checkerboard fashion. Then plaster takes a semi-circular shape and looks like a sea cucumber, hence the name Namakokabe―sea cucumber wall.
The walls of Hotel Okura are so made that as the sun sails the sky toward the west, the color on the walls changes with it.



Patterns in the Volumes of “The Poems of Thirty-six Poets”

The poems of thirty-six famous poets, such as Hitomaro and Tsurayuki, of the Nara Period through the Heian Period, were put together in thirty-seven volumes, and the poems were copied by such skilled artists of calligraphy of the Heian Period as Sadanobu Fujiwara and others.
What is remarkable about these volumes, from our standpoint, is the fact that each sheet of paper received utmost attention in the esthetic sense. Each sheet was made by pasting Chinese paper, colored paper and dyed paper together in such a way so that one on top of the other would recede slightly, or that it would seem as if the sheet had been torn, resulting in a most fantastic design, and over this were scattered gold and silver foil pieces of different sizes, and then rivers, mountains and flowers were printed or drawn (by brush) over them.

The beauty of the cursive characters in black on the glistening background defines description. The whole panorama reveals to us the elegant world of the Heian nobility. The great murals of Heian-no-ma are a reproduction of the format, designs and patterns, colors, methods, and materials of the thirty-seven volumes of the thirty-six poets, and recreate for us the glamor of the Heian court.
One of the patterns found in the poetic collection is called Suminagashi. It describes rushing water in a stream. This can be done by one of two methods: by drawing with a brush or dropping black Indian ink on a wet sheet of paper and then transferring it to another sheet. What you see on the walls of the Seiryu-no-ma is a blowup of a photographic impression of Suminagashi done at Hotel Okura. We believe that we succeeded in recreating the classic beauty of Suminagashi.

Nishikibari (Silk Finish)

The decorative wall finish of the entrance of the grand banquet hall deserves a close look. In short it is the old fashioned patching, but actually it represents a faithful reproduction of a hundred different brocades, some of which are thirteen century-old native fabrics; others are silk and gold brocades and silk damasks imported between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Painstaking efforts have gone into making the wall finish in order to bring about a harmony between the materials and the colors chosen. Some excellent Nishikibari are seen on the clothes which are kept at Uesugi Shrine, but the silk finish we have is the only one of its kind ever tried on walls.

Chashitsu (The Tea-ceremony Room)

Chashitsu could be a room or an independent house. It was at the beginning of the Muromachi Period that detached tea-ceremony houses began to be built. Originally the tea room was designed much like a drawing room, but as the cult developed, the furnishings took on a more suitable look. At present the different schools of tea-ceremony have their own architectural specifications.
Myoki-an, tea house and Jo-an, tea house, both built during the Momoyama Period, are well known national treasures.
The Tea-ceremony Room at House Okura, on the seventh floor, called Chosho-an, consists of the main sitting room and the outer room. You can view the Garden of the Winding River from the window here.

Ishi(Stone)

The walls of the main dining room, Orchid Room, and of the lobby are not made of ordinary stone. It is Tako Ishi found at Tako, Gumma Prefecture. Notice the brownish creases which at times look like dark flows such as in Chinese painting.
There is nothing of that hard grey look of ordinary stone.

Uroko-mon (The Fish Scale Pattern)

An aggregate triangular pattern appears like fish scales. In Japan this pattern was used on clothes as early as the Haniwa Period, and since then has remained popular among the common people.
In the twelfth century the warrior class adopted it for use on weapons and armors, because the simplicity and neatness of the Uroko-mon appealed to the Samurai. When gilded over by gold or silver dust, scales take on the appearance of snake skin, and it is believed that it symbolized the tenacity of the female sex. Thus in Noh plays Uroko-mon is seen on women’s dresses. Off the Noh stage the pattern is today generally appreciated for its rhythmical mood.

Take (Bamboo)

The bamboo grows in such abundance and in such great variety in Asia that its graceful figure has been completely integrated into our daily life. This is to say that the plant serves as excellent building material. We use it to build our houses, make fences and all sorts of household articles.
On a moon-lit night bamboo trees in the garden cast exotic shadows on the paper sliding doors, giving the illusion of a Sumie, a brush and black ink drawing.

Asanoha-mon(The Hemp Leaf Pattern)

Put six equilateral triangles together to form a hexagon, and you have a perfect hemp leaf pattern. We use it on transom windows and sliding doors. You may see dyed hemp leaves on ladies’ handbags and other personal articles. The usage of the pattern is very wide, hence its great importance.
This pattern is feminine. It is often used on obi, juban(kimono undergarment) and kimono. We associate Asanohamon with Omiwa and Yaoya Oshichi, favorite Kabuki heroines. It also reminds us of Ukiyoe yukata(informal summer kimono).

Fuji(Wisteria)

In ancient Kyoto the festival of wisteria was held each year at the Fujitsubo House (House of Wisteria) within the Imperial Court. The flower that has graced the landscape every early summer has been transferred by the artists on to handicraft pieces and dyed fabrics.

Icho(Gingko)

The gingko grows tall and lives long. Its green leaves of spring turn to glorious yellow in fall. The grounds of Hotel Okura are full of gingko trees. Because the gingko is a good omen, we have used the gingko leaf pattern generously throughout the hotel.

Kirikodama-gata (The Hexahedral Pattern)

The Okura Lantern, now familiar to all international travelers, in the main lobby and entrance hall, owe their unique shape to the hexahedral gems found in the early dawn of our country, the third to the sixth century. Together with crescent jades and beads they were used on necklaces.
Kirikodama in Japanese, they may be made of crystal, glass or emerald. At Okura, five or six of them are strung together.

Tori (Birds)

We find a great number of animal motifs among the Shosoin treasures. In the center wall of the south wing lobby, there is a mural of heron in flight―made of black and white tile―created originally by the famous wood-block print artist, Shikoh Munakata, but modified and recreated in the form of a folding screen by Mr. Yoshiro Taniguchi.
The tile-works was conducted by Mr. Yasutsugu Kobayashi.
This work of art merges well with the Okura’s distinctive atmosphere as well as with the suspended lanterns.

Shibenka (Four-petal Flowers)

Times change and people come and go, but our love of flowers remains unchanged. Flowers bring peace and comfort to you, and to Hotel Okura. In the center of the hotel lobby (fifth floor) expertly arranged flowers greet you. And on the wall of the lobby, there is a brocade of four-petal flowers in the form of connected screens, designed by the late Kenkichi Tomimoto, great master of ceramic paining.

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