The Meaning Behind the Colors and Order of Sanshoku Dango: A Brief History



Sanshoku dango, a traditional Japanese sweet, is a beautiful treat that symbolizes the arrival of spring with its vibrant colors. The pink, white, and green hues of these dango (sweet rice dumplings) not only create a stunning visual appearance but also carry deep cultural meanings and a rich history. In this article, we will explore the symbolic significance behind each color, the historical background of sanshoku dango, and its role in modern times.

The Meaning of Colors

Pink: Typically represents cherry blossoms, the symbol of spring. This color signifies the beginning of new life, the arrival of warmer seasons, happiness, love, and protection against evil spirits. Pink not only marks the changing of seasons but also carries profound meanings that resonate with people’s lives and hearts.

White: Symbolizes purity, cleanliness, new beginnings, and innocence. White represents the transition from winter to spring, embodying the hope of moving towards a fresh and pristine state. The interpretation of white as a color that honors ancestors is deeply connected to Japan’s culture of ancestor worship.

Green: Represents the rebirth and growth of nature, heralding the arrival of the green season. This color is associated with health, longevity, and prosperity, closely linked to the Japanese respect for nature. The youthfulness and sense of security that green conveys are essential values in daily life.

The Order of Colors

The order of colors in sanshoku dango also holds special meaning. Traditionally, the dango are skewered in the order of pink, white, and green from top to bottom. There are several interpretations of this sequence:

  • Some believe that the order represents the changing of the seasons, with pink for spring (cherry blossoms), white for winter (snow), and green for summer (lush greenery).
  • Others suggest that the colors symbolize the beauty of Japanese nature and the four seasons, the cycle of life, and the bonds of family.
  • Another interpretation is that the order represents the progression of cherry blossom blooming in spring, with pink symbolizing the beginning of the bloom, white representing the peak of the bloom, and green signifying the emergence of new leaves as the blossoms fade.


The origins of sanshoku dango can be traced back to the Heian period (794-1185). The shape and use of colors have evolved throughout history, influenced by various stories and traditions. In imperial court ceremonies and aristocratic events celebrating seasonal changes, colorful foods, including sanshoku dango, were used. Pink dango were particularly favored during spring festivities associated with cherry blossom viewing, greatly influencing the development of sanshoku dango.

During the Edo period (1603-1868), sanshoku dango became popular among commoners and became an essential treat during cherry blossom viewing. The meanings and symbolism of each color were emphasized during this time, playing a significant role in Japanese life. Throughout this era, sanshoku dango established its position as a wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionery) that represents the four seasons of Japan.

Sanshoku Dango in Modern Times

In contemporary Japan, sanshoku dango remains a beloved traditional sweet that celebrates the arrival of spring. Enjoying sanshoku dango with family and friends under the cherry blossoms is an essential part of the spring tradition. The colorful appearance of these dango also adds a festive touch to special occasions and celebratory meals. Recently, even Starbucks has introduced a Frappuccino inspired by sanshoku dango, showcasing its symbolic association with spring.

Sanshoku dango serves as a medium to convey Japan’s cultural appreciation for nature through its colors and history. The stories woven by these colors are cherished by many people today and will continue to be passed down to future generations, alongside the changing seasons of Japan.