Different cultures have different interpretations and perceptions of “color”. In this article, we would like to focus on “rainbows” as one such theme. Now, how many different colors do you see in a “rainbow”? Umm, sorry. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to ask the following questions. In your country or region, how many colors is a “rainbow” commonly considered to be divided into? “How many colors is a “rainbow” divided into?” The answer to this question varies from culture to culture. It seems that not only by region and ethnicity, but also by time period, the interpretation of them differs in various ways. In the Western world, rainbows are generally considered to have six colors (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple), right? In some countries and regions, such as Germany, the rainbow has five colors (red, orange, yellow, green, and blue). In China and other countries, the rainbow is considered to have five colors. In countries in the African region and the tropics, the rainbow is considered to have two or three colors (their combinations or order of the colors varies). These differences are really interesting. So, in Japan, how many colors is the rainbow commonly thought to be? The answer is seven colors. From the outside, they are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and purple. Around the end of the 17th century, Isaac Newton in England proposed a theory that the spectrum of light had seven colors. It is said that this theory was introduced to Japan around the end of the Edo period and became generally known. Incidentally, before that, apparently the perception was that the rainbow was divided into about four or five colors. Later, in the Western world, the theory of six or five colors excluding indigo (or dark blue or purple) became common, but in Japan, the theory of seven colors as it is became commonly recognized.
How many colors is a “rainbow” divided into? People from various disciplines contemplated how to come up with the answer. Optics (physics) and color science. Literature, folklore, pedagogy… Since the modern era, all of these fields have developed significantly. For example, in the field of optics, accurate values of visible light wavelengths are now available, and in the field of color science, a number of sophisticated color distribution classification methods have been established. However, none of them seemed to provide the correct answer to the question, “How many colors is a “rainbow” divided into?” The way we see and perceive “color” differs from culture to culture, as do the words and phrases used to describe that “color”. The meanings or impressions that each “color” has will also differ, right? Even among people who share the same culture, there are subtle differences among them. “How many colors is a “rainbow” divided into?” There might be no answer to the question. We should think that we were looking for an answer to the question “How many colors do you see in a rainbow?”. How do we find the answer to that question? All of the actions required to answer the question will be the very essence of culture itself. Based on the various interpretations given in the various fields mentioned above, we guess that the culture of “rainbow” as seven colors has been established in Japan. The Japanese language has many words that express “ambiguous” things. Onomatopoeia is one example. Therefore, there were many words that could be used to describe “color”. By using them, they were able to share their interpretations and perceptions of “color” that differed from those of other countries or regions.
There are many interesting interpretations and perceptions of “color” in Japanese culture. We hope to introduce others from time to time.