originally pictures by Unique Japan
I'm sure we're all familiar of the term 'the land of the Rising Sun'.
This immediately shows the importance of colors used in Japanese (ancient) culture. Did you know that the names of some colors date back to Asuka period - more than a thousand years ago?
A rough estimate is that the current Japanese color system lists over 500 unique colors :) Cool huh?
For those who've viewed their share of sword making documentaries know that the sword smith heavily depends on the color of the steel. More specific, the sword smith recognizes the steel's temperature by looking at the color and performs the yaki-ire (quench) when the steel reaches the red color of the rising sun (though some variations exist to describe the color).
While this may sound a bit vague, in Japanese culture there are many different colors, all described with a (sometimes poetic) description.
In ancient Japanese culture you will find many color nuances which simply do not exist in Western culture (or a least, have no name). Funny enough, this goes two ways and Japan did not have a clear linguistic distinction between blue (ao) and green (midori) until European crayons found their way into Japan in the beginning of previous century. Green vegetables are still known by 青野菜 ~ ao-yasai which literally means blue vegetables :) Though people will understand you if you use the 緑 ~ midori to describe green.
Anyway to go back to sword koshirae, the use of some traditional colors can really breathe a different feel and make the sword seem more alive.
Have a look at this gorgeous picture of an (unknown) wakizashi I downloaded ages ago.
The saya has a deep warm brown color which is the natural color of base seshime urushi. It's not chestnut, not chocolate but something in between.
Whereas the sheath appears nearly black in the top image, the actual color (seen in the detail shots below) has more depth caused by the partial translucency of urushi as well as the many layers of lacquer.
The tsuka-ito and sageo could be described as tetsu. This color got its name from 'satetsu'; the famous iron sand that is the basis for the Japanese sword.
The Japanese color naming scheme contains a lot of inconsistencies but it's very interesting to see how a color has received its name.
Have a great weekend everybody! For those interested, here's a huge list of color names ;)