How to read Japanese Knitting Patterns

We're proud to offer a selection of interesting textile and knitting books through the Twig & Horn Library, and we've recently added three Japanese knitting books. Two are stitch dictionaries, Kazekobo's Favorite Stitches and Kazekobo's Favorite Colors, from knitwear designer Yoko Hatta. 

The third book is Timeless Men's Knits, a lovely collection of garments and accessories, filled with sweaters perfectly slouchy and roomy on women sizes 32-40. Japanese patterns are constructed much differently than the written patterns many of us are accustomed to - patterns are charted, rather than written row-by row. We hope this blog post will be a helpful reference for anyone who wants to knit from Timeless Men's Knits, or any Japanese knitting pattern.



Japanese pattern overview

Before diving into handy Japanese words and chart reading tips, there are a few differences from written patterns that we'd like to note.

The first major difference in Japanese patterns may be fairly obvious upon first glance - all patterns are charted, rather than instructions written out row by row. Charted patterns have their benefits; by showing a chart, more emphasis is placed on the finished measurements of each section of the pattern. Changes in sizing, like adding length to sleeves or the body, are easier to visualize by having the entire garment on a grid. These patterns are also much more concise, and typically fit on one or two sheets of paper, perfect for tucking away into a knitting project bag.

To every up there is a down, and one deficit of charted pattern writing is a lack of supplemental information. For example, in a raglan pullover, standard written instructions will give the direction of any decrease shaping, typically in a k2og or ssk for right and left respectively. It is common for Japanese knitting patterns to list the placement and amount of decreases, but not whether they're left or right leaning decreases. There's a lot more left to the knitter to interpret for themselves. 

Additionally, most Japanese patterns are only written to one size, very occasionally two sizes. The men's knitting book we're stocking is rare in that it gives a medium, large, and extra large sizes. Unisex patterns are an excellent introduction to knitting from a Japanese pattern, if a sweater is already intended to be worn loose with a lot of positive ease, sizing to an exact bust size is less critical than it would be if knitting a tightly fitting garment. 

Reading The Charts

The above image is from Timeless Men's Knits, and shows a standard intro and construction notes section. There's a lot of information in the top of the pattern which isn't absolutely critical to knitting a great sweater from these instructions, so don't feel too overwhelmed if this seems like a whole lot of Japanese.

Japanese Terms for Materials:

糸: Yarn

玉: Ball (of yarn)

超極太: Super bulky­­ yarn

極太:Bulky weight yarn

並太: Worsted weight yarn

合太: Sport weight yarn

中細:Fingering weight yarn

棒針: Knitting Needles

# 号: JPN size knitting needles. If you ever see a number, followed by this character in a notes section in a Japanese pattern, it is referring to the necessary knitting needle. Reference the chart below for JPN needle to US and metric conversion.

ケージ: Gauge

メリヤス編:Stockinette stitch

10cm 平方: 10 cm square, roughly eq. to a 4 inch flat gauge swatch square


段 : rows

A note about yarn substitution in Japanese patterns: unfortunately, most Japanese patterns do not give yardage requirements, and only list weights in metric. A bit of reverse engineering and math is required to figure out the exact yardage requirements, but a quick and simple way to substitute is to purchase yarn by the weight. Most yarn companies wind skeins into 50g or 100g skeins, and this information should be available on the yarn bands or tag. Keep in mind there are some variants to how dense or airy a skein of yarn is per yard, and a good rule when substituting any yarn into a pattern, play it safe and grab an extra skein.  

Gauge can also be helpful in determining what type of yarn should be substituted. Yes, Japanese patterns have the oft reviled gauge swatch! The Timeless Men's Knits book has yarn weight information listed for all patterns, but not every Japanese patterns does. This pattern has a gauge of 14 stitches and 20 rows per 10 centimeters, which is a close equivalent to a 4 inch gauge swatch. This means we're getting 3.5 stitches per inch, which is in the bulky range. This isn't an ideal way to figure out yarn requirements, some designs may feature intentionally dense or drapey fabric, but it's a good starting point.

Making the right fit: Sizing

The Timeless Men's Knits book offers 3 sizes, which is a rarity. If a pattern does not offer different sizing, here are some helpful words to parse schematic measurements.

サイズ: size

胸囲: bust/chest measurement

背: back

丈: length (of sweater)

袖丈: sleeve length

M: medium

L: large

LL: extra large

Starting to Read a Chart:

We've made a mockup sweater diagram to illustrate how to read from Japanese charts, and we'll break this down step-by-step, beginning at the cast on edge of the back of this sweater. Here are some handy words to get us started.

Japanese Pattern Words:

後身頃:back of sweater body 

前身頃:front of sweater body 



衿: neck/collar

2目ゴム: 2 X 2 rib

1目ゴム: 1 X 1 rib

作る: cast on

伏目: bind off

# ー: Alternate bind off notation

平: work flat

メリヤス編み:stockinette pattern

輪にする:Knit in the round

ボタン: button

模様: Stitch pattern

This sweater is knit flat, and knit from the bottom up. We can tell this because there is an arrow upwards from the bottom rib hem, noting the knitting direction.

The body width is listed in the curved line, 53 (74目), 53 centimeters and 74 stitches across. In Japanese patterns, the stitch pattern is written in parenthesis within each section of the drawing. 

For the bottom hem, we have (2目ゴム) which means a 2 x 2 rib. The length of each section is notated on the side of the drawing, and this pattern has length listed both in centimeters and rows. The rib hem is 8 cm long, which should take 16 rows to achieve.

The bottom line with (74目) 作る is the cast on instructions - the specific cast on used isn't listed, so knitters can use their preference. After working to the specified length, switch to the next section.

The body of the sweater has (メリヤス編み) which means stockinette. This section is easy, there is no side shaping, and we're knitting flat for 30 cm, or 60 rows. 

Here's the trickiest part of all sweater construction in Japanese patterns. Most shaping is written in this way, and can be translated to shaping in the body and neckline. Once you have this step down, the rest of the knitting should be cake.

Follow each step from the bottom up to finish the arm shaping, and work decreases on both armholes. These steps are to be read from the bottom up. The center column shows the number of decreases, the left column shows how often per row the decreases are to be worked, and the right number is how many times these decreases should be worked.

We hope this overview has been helpful to any knitters who have been aching to knit from a Japanese pattern. If there are any questions about a specific Japanese pattern, let us know in the comment section below.


  • Susan

    I can read Japanese pattern, but come across this which I don’t know what to do. What should I do on the 力所? What does that mean?

    13 – 1 – 11 – 1
    段 目 力所 回

    I suppose to reduce 1sts at row 13 for once, but I don’t understand the 力所 11? Can you please help? Thank you very much!

  • Ana Maria Vicente

    Thank you so much, there was so useful

  • ChrisTine

    merci pour ce billet. j’ai plus de facilité avec le crochet, mais peut être qu’il m’aidera à comprendre le tricot sur un prochain livre en japonais.
    Thank you for this post. I have more ease with the crochet, but maybe it will help me understand the knitting on a next book in Japanese.

  • Gladys

    Hi, I happened to own the same knit book “Timeless Men’s Knit”, and I was going to knit pattern B (men’s vest) when I realized I’m not very sure about the instructions.

    I’m fluent in Japanese, but I couldn’t understand where I should start by just looking at the pattern. Should I start from the sides (★メリヤス編み), because the 2nd page of Pattern B shows that the first stitch is counted from the middle (模様編み).

    Also, for the following stitch, am I supposed to read it from bottom-up?


    It’d be great if you can help!! :)

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