Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Motifs: Waves (Seigaiha) and Wheels (--guruma)

Today's first motif doesn't fit neatly into some of the categories that we've studied so far this month. Waves are hardly botanical or zoological, and unless one is in a theme-park, they aren't really manufactured either. The closest categorization might be geometric, but this isn't always the case. Even so, they can be found as a design element and motif in many kimono and accessories. Waves are not really seasonally specific, though they can be found in combinations that will lend themselves to a specific seasonality or occasion.

Cream hitoe kimono with wave pattern

Closer shot of the hitoe, with a little more of the wave pattern detailing visible

This ensemble was put together to commemorate the reopening of a tea house in San Jose's Japanese Friendship Gardens. In this example, the wave pattern reads a little like scales on a fish, punctuated with green and maroon 'wave' arches over kiku. I chose this particular kimono because of it's fresh and spring-like coloring as well as the fact that the 'wave scales' pay a (very subtle) homage to the koi that live in the nearby ponds.

Wheels, our second motif for the day, are a little more straight-forward. There are several different styles of wheels to be found as traditional motifs, like ishiguruma (stone wheel) and genji-guruma (carriage wheel). Wheels are also not particularly seasonal, though they might be found a little more commonly in winter-appropriate designs.

Obi with wheel and crane motifs
We saw this obi earlier this month when we were talking about cranes (tsuru) but in this image, at least, the wheel is actually the more prominent of the designs. this particular wheel is more like a genji-guruma, as it is fairly ornate in configuration.

For many of the motifs, I haven't really delved into deeper symbolism. With so many natural  motifs on display, it's far easier to talk about seasonality, and in many cases, there really isn't much to delve into; the motifs are admired because they are reflections of nature and admirable for that alone. With the wheel, however, I feel that I would be remiss if I did not try to make mention of some of its deeper meanings, especially in relation to Buddhism and specifically, Dharma.

This Dharma Wheel is the insignia for Buddhist Chaplains in the USAF. Image sourced from Wikipedia.

While I dance at Obon, I am not someone who was raised in Buddhist teaching, nor am I an active practitioner. Even so, to try to say that the wheel is nothing more than a pleasing motif seems disingenuous to me, so please bear with me.

My understanding of Dharma as one of the 'Three Jewels' of Buddhist teaching, is that Dharma is the 'cosmic law.' Some congregations may see it as specifically the teachings of Buddha himself (specifically the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Path), while others view it as 'the way things are.'

What does a wheel have to do with all of this? Traditionally, the Dharma wheel (Dharmachakra) will have eight spokes for the Eight-Fold Path. The hub or center represents moral discipline. The rim of the wheel represents meditation and mindfulness; those things which hold the practice together. The perfection of the circular shape is the perfection of Buddha's teachings.

Not all wheels or wheel motifs will be representative of the Dharma, but I feel that it's important to know that there are wheels and wheel motifs that will have a deeper meaning than what might otherwise be obvious. Just as I try not to wear kimono with family crests, or kana or kanji that I do not understand, similarly do I try to avoid unfamiliar motifs until I have made sure I understand what they are.

I am sure that all of us, at one time or another, have been confronted with misunderstandings due to language or unfamiliarity and gone on to learn from them. If my kind readers care to share their own experiences, I hope that you will do so in the comments.

Tomorrow, we're cheating a bit to get an 'X' motif. Your clue is that it is a geometric, and I hope you join me tomorrow to find out which one!

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