Kouhaku: Why Japanese like Red and White Combination
The meaning of colors differs from country to country.
For example, we Japanese associate yellow with happiness, vigor, and delight, but the color symbolizes deceit and cowardice in some countries.
Accordingly, each country respectively has its favorite combinations of colors.
As for ours, we like to use red and white together and call the combination Kouhaku (紅白: meaning Red and White), also spelled as Kohaku.
Meaning of the Japanese Word
The use of the colors red and white Kouhaku has its roots in a battle that broke out about 800 years ago.
In the field, two troops fought each other. One had red flags, while the other put up white flags.
Since then, the simultaneous combined use of red and white has been passed down
and today, when we divide people into two teams or groups, we traditionally assign them the two colors.
In addition to that usage, we customarily use the combination of red and white during celebrations.
One theory holds that Kouhaku represents the person’s lifetime since red can mean birth and white can stand for death in Japan.
Now, Japanese people generally consider the color combination a lucky charm, and thus, we have the custom of preparing it on auspicious occasions.
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 two teams, red or white, and fight each other.
- The year-end grand song festival by NHK, Kouhaku Uta Gassen (紅白歌合戦), is annually held on New Year’s Eve, where participating artists are divided into two teams, red and white.
- 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 cakes.
- While Kujira Maku (鯨幕), a Shirokuro (black and white) curtain, is commonly used in the funeral ceremony, we often hang a red and white curtain called Kouhaku Maku (紅白幕) on auspicious events.
(Reference Page: Wikipedia 紅白)