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Motif Information
Motif ginkgo photo 03.jpg
Rōmaji Ichō
English Gingko Biloba (also Maidenhair Tree)
Kanji 銀杏
Kana イチョウ
Season Autumn
Seasonal Exceptions Young leaves may appear in spring
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Plant

Known as Ichō in Japanese, ginkgo (Gingko Biloba) is also referred to in English as the Maidenhair Tree (not to be confused with maidenhair fern).

The ginkgo leaf is the symbol of the Urasenke school of Tea Ceremony, as well as the national tree of China. It is a widespread and prevalent design feature in many traditional Japanese items, including but not limited to kimono, weapons, woodblock prints, ceramics, and kamon.

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Ginkgo are considered to be at their most beautiful in autumn, when they fade from their natural green to a vivid golden yellow. They are usually shown from late summer onwards, after the colour turning point. However, the young soft green leaves can also be used to represent early spring.

Common Motif Pairings

Gingko tree in suburban SF Bay area

Ginkgo is often included in the motif known as fukiyose, or "drifting fallen leaves". Other items that can be included include matsuba (pine needle), kiku (chrysanthemum), momiji (maple leaves), and hagi (bush clover). They are often shown in a nearly geometric arrangement, to show the rustling of the wind through the items.

Auspicious Nature

Ginkgo is an incredibly long-lived and hardy plant. Several specimens were observed surviving the nuclear assault on Hiroshima, two of which still stand today and are considered "bearers of Hope" to the Japanese. As such, they would be considered an auspicious and hopeful motif, suitable for events relating to long life.

They were also brought back from a suspected virtual extinction after selective and careful breeding by Buddhist monks in China and Japan, and are still found on many temple grounds today, and so assume religious reference also.[1]

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

In Poetry

Motif ginkgo goethe poem.jpg

The German poet Goethe was so taken by the unique ginkgo that he was inspired to write the following poem, using the dual-lobed nature of the leaf as a metaphor. He sent the poem, along with two pressed leaves, to a friend and secret lover, the wife a famous banker in Frankfurt.[2]

This tree’s leaf which here the East
In my garden propagates,
On its secret sense we feast,
Such as sages elevates.

Is it one but being single
Which as same itself divides?
Are there two which choose to mingle,
So that one each other hides?

As the answer to such question
I’ve found a sense that’s true:
Is it not my songs’s suggestion
That I’m one and also two?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe AD 1815 - Love Poem to Marianne von Willemer [3]

Geisha and Hairstyles

Two vintage postcards of women sporting Ichō-Gaeshi hairstyle

While not a motif generally associated with geisha or geisha culture, the ginkgo inspired a hairstyle known as Ichō-Gaeshi, 銀杏返し, which was occasionally sported by geisha in photographs and postcards. The style features a distinctive "two-lobed" bun at the top, split much like the iconic leaf of the tree. This was a hairstyle also worn by common or even low-class women - waitresses, bar girls, wives of lower-status men, etc. [4]

There was also a similar hairstyle used by men known as the Ichō-mage. This hairstyle was commonplace amongst the Samurai class, but nowadays is only worn (with slight variations) by Sumo wrestlers.

Article Notes

Relevant Threads / Discussions


  1. Trees for You - Ginkgo
  2. Wikipedia
  3. Poem source
  4. Wikipedia Japan - Icho-Gaeshi

Image Credits

  • Diane Quintal

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: Diane Quintal (Moonblossom (IG Username))

Contributors: n/a