Pattern Play: Hawaiian Tiger

The edo period in Japan, between the early 1600’s to late 1800’s was an extremely influential time for Japanese culture, art and policy. This period in history came as a result of Tokugawa Ieyasu who was the initial shogun, or military leader, of the Tokugawa or Edo shogunate of Japan when he claimed victory in the Battle of Sekigahara. This victory created a monumental shift in the Japanese government which led to a period of relative peace and prosperity.

Due to this time in the city of Edo, now present-day Tokyo, a vibrant cultural revolution emerged that created much of Japan’s “early modern” era’s vast collection of art and craft. Although in later years the Tokugawa government put in place strict policies for economic growth, the early years produced some of the country’s finest painting and architecture, especially within the Rinpa School. This school was a major historical institution for painting created by Hon'ami Kōetsu and Tawaraya Sōtatsu in the 17th century and led to many fine art pieces ranging from ceramics to textiles, with many of their paintings used on blank sliding doors or walls in notable homes.

Over time, the artists began to draw influence from Chinese arts and culture, especially the tiger which proved to become a staple in historical Japanese art. Although tigers are not native to Japan, many artists were drawn to the vibrant colours and realistic features on Chinese tiger art and so they began to create their own. The first Japanese painter to famously depict the tiger was Maruyama Okyo in the early 18th century. Okyo did not have access to any live tigers to use as his muse, so he sought out the full body skin of a Chinese tiger and measured its proportions to create his own work. The result was a more frightening, realistic and lively tiger never seen in art before. From this, a new tiger painting was born, which led to tiger illustrations being engraved in Japanese culture and sought after by Samurai warriors due to it being a symbol of courage, strength and willpower which were all highly valued by warriors in this period. Our Hawaiian Tiger pattern combines this iconic animal with tropical, Hawaiian motifs and foliage since over the years many Japanese citizens immigrated to Hawaii for the prospect of work after suffering a series of crop issues at home. This resulted in a surge of Japanese culture and influence in Hawaii that is still present today, which directly correlates to the ongoing connection between surf and art that has been around for decades.

Drawing inspiration from the Edo period (18th-century) of Japanese artwork, our pattern showcases the traditional Japanese tiger motif and its symbolism of being powerful and courageous. We let the tiger be the strong element on a blank black or beige background on our swim trunks and matching camp shirt, similar to how early edo period artists painted their work on blank walls and sliding doors in noble homes.