Kouhaku : Why Japanese like the 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 written as Kohaku)

The Meaning of the Japanese Word

Kouhaku Red and White Color Combination

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

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

The Case when Kouhaku is Used in Japan

Finally, 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.
  • The 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.

Kouhaku Manju

  • We have the tradition of presenting the set of red and white Japanese steamed buns stuffed with sweet red bean paste “Kouhaku manju (紅白まんじゅう)” during celebration times.

Kouhaku Maku

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

(Reference page of this article : Wikipedia 紅白)

Tomo

Hi, I'm Tomo, a Japanese blogger living in Niigata Prefecture, Japan. 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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