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Motif Information
Motif sayagata 01.png
Rōmaji Sayagata
English Key-Fret
Kanji 紗綾形
Kana さやがた
Season All-Season
Seasonal Exceptions None
Auspicious Yes
Motif Type Geometric

Sayagata is a pattern of interlocking manji (万字, [卍], swastika) commonly found as the background rinzu pattern on kimono, especially iromuji. It is believed to be a contraction of sa-ayagata (gossamer figured-cloth pattern).

Sayagata originated in India as a motif often applied to Buddhist architecture. Sayagata was introduced to Japan from China on imported textiles in the Tenshō era (1573-92).[1]

Due to its distinctive repetitive use of negative space, sayagata is often translated into English as "key fret."

Seasonal Use, Exceptions & Pairings

Sayagata on background shoji in middle panel of triptych from the kabuki play Ichi-no-tani (楽人斎 実ハ田五平, 1849) by Utagawa Kuniyoshi in the collection of the British Museum

A geometric motif generally has no season of it's own and thus can be worn throughout the year.

Motif Connotations & Symbolism

Sayagata is less strongly associated with Buddhism than manji. It is associated with strength and frequently appears on the clothing of strong characters, whether heroes or villains, in ukiyo-e.[2]

Auspicious Nature

Manji (卍) can be read as an alternate way of writing 万 (lit. myriad). It is strongly associated with the Buddhist concept of eternity.[3] The interlinked right and left facing manji in sayagata emphasize this concept.

Common Motif Pairings

Identification & Style Variations

Sayagata can be constructed in various ways so long as the base unit is manji. It is a popular motif woven into rinzu.

Motif Examples

Motif in Literature & Other Usage

Ichikawa Sadanji II as Narukami. Woodblock print by Natori Shunsen.

In the kabuki play "Narukami Fudô Kitayama Zakura", the evil priest Narukami wears an outfit decorated with lightning and flames. The plot is that the recluse Narukami kidnaps the dragon god in order to revenge the Imperial Court. This causes rain to no longer fall, meaning the people suffer. Kumonotaema-hime offers to seduce him and save the country. The motif symbolizes the madness Narukami suffers for violating Buddhist beliefs. [8]

The lightning appears in the shape as manji/sayagata, usually depicted in gold or silver on a white background. The motif appears to fade out on the edges, showing the jagged edges reminiscent of lightning.

Authors & Contributors

Author/s: Erica Pai (Iyolin (IG Username))

Contributors: n/a


  1. JAANUS, sayagata
  2. Baird, Merrily. Symbols of Japan: Thematic Motifs in Art and Design. Rizzoli. 2001. p.232.
  3. Wikipedia article on Swastika. Accessed March 27, 2017.
  4. JAANUS, sayagata
  5. JAANUS, sayagata
  6. JAANUS, sayagata
  7. JAANUS, sayagata
  8. Kabuki Costumes, Kyoto Shoin's Art Library of Japanese Textiles, book 10, pg 16-17. ISBN:4-7636-7045-X