Kouhaku: Why Japanese like Red and White Combination

The meaning of colors differs depending on the country. For example, we Japanese generally associate yellow with happiness, vigor, and delight, but the color symbolizes deceit and cowardice in some countries.

Kouhaku (紅白)

Accordingly, each country has its own favorite combinations of colors respectively. As for our country, we especially like to use red and white colors together and call the combination “Kouhaku (紅白: Red and White)”, also spelled as Kohaku.

The Meaning of the Japanese Word

Kouhaku or Kohaku or Red and White

It is said that the Japanese word literally meaning red and white “Kouhaku (紅白)” has its roots in a battle that broke out about 800 years ago. In the battle, 2 troops, one with red flags and the other with white flags, fought each other.

The simultaneous combined use of red and white has been passed down in Japan from generation to generation, and today when we divide people into 2 teams, we traditionally assign them the 2 colors.

In addition to that usage, actually the combination of red and white colors, Kouhaku is also customarily used during celebrations.

One theory holds that “Kouhaku (red and white)” stands for the person’s lifetime since red has a meaning of “birth” and white has a meaning of “death” in Japan.

Because of this, in general, Japanese people consider the combination of red and white a lucky charm, for which reason we have the custom of preparing it at auspicious occasions.

The Case when Kouhaku is Used in Japan

Lastly, here are some occasions when the red and white combination, Kouhaku is used in Japan.

  • On sports day, children belong to one of the 2 teams, red or white, and fight each other.
  • NHK’s nationally famous year-end grand song festival, “Kouhaku Uta Gassen (紅白歌合戦)” is held annually on New Year’s Eve, where participating artists are divided into 2 teams, red and white.

Kohaku Manju

  • During celebration times, we have the tradition of presenting “Kouhaku Manju (紅白まんじゅう)“, a set of red and white Manju or Japanese steamed buns stuffed with sweet red bean paste.

Kohaku Maku

  • When celebrating special occasions, the red and white striped curtain “Kouhaku Maku (紅白幕)” is often hung in Japan.

(Reference Page: Wikipedia 紅白)


Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. For the purpose of enriching your life, I would like to introduce things about Japan on this blog, especially unique Japanese products, cooking recipes, cultures, and facts and trivia.

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