Of all major powers of the 2nd world war, Japan is probably the nation least documented. Outside of the general information, few details have been preserved, indexed and published.

This also is the case with the painting systems used by the Japanese Army and Navy Air Forces. While systems such as the RLM have been heavily researched and documented, a lot of information about Japanese systems is still undiscovered, and what is known is often purely empirical, based on old photographs and painting chips. The information that has been discovered is often not widely known and published on the internet. A lack in the subject perhaps? Nevertheless I’ve tried to create a comprehensive list of all the Japanese paints. Nothing here is primary research. Merely snippets of information I’ve locate on the abandoned corners of the web and scruffy books.

As with all pages of this type, the colours shown are an approximation. Monitors can change the colour displayed and don’t account for shading and glossiness. In reality these colours would also fade over time, and different batches had different tones.

(IJNAF/IJAAF) Thorpe system

In the 1960’s, researcher Donald Thorpe tried to index the colours used by Japanese aircraft. His system was the first comprehensive system.
The system is created purely by examining old photographs, paint chips and other surviving artefacts and it’s naming is purely arbitrary as a result. Nonetheless it gives a clear overview of the paints often used on Japanese Aircraft.
Army colours were denoted with an A and navy colours with an N. Some colours overlapped, but for readability I put them in both tables.

Army

Code Colour FS equivalent Gunze Tamiya Vallejo AK
A1 Dark Green FS-26081   XF-67    
Single overall colour
Upper surface camouflage
Sometimes as anti-glare
A2 Olive Green FS-34088        
Single overall colour
Upper Surface camouflage
Possibly #7; Ohryoku 7 Go Shoku
A3 Medium Green FS-34108        
Unit Markings colours
Upper Surface camouflage
Possibly IJA #39
A4 Light green FS-25352 H-062 XF-14    
Upper and Lower Surface camouflage
Possible the same colour as A5, #1 Hai Ryoku Shoku
A5 Light grey Green FS-25414   XF-12    
Control surfaces of all metal aircraft
Upper and Lower Surface camouflage
Single overall colour
Possible the same colour as A4, #1 Hai Ryoku Shoku
A6 Dark Grey FS-26132        
Single overall colour
Upper Surface Camouflage
A7 Medium Grey FS-36300        
Single overall colour
Upper and Lower Surface camouflage
A8 Medium Blue Grey FS-35177        
Single overall colour
Upper and Lower Surface camouflage
A9 Light Grey FS-36650        
Single overall colour
Upper and Lower Surface camouflage
Landing gear assemblies
A10 Light Blue Grey FS-35550        
Lower Surface Camouflage
A11 Dark Brown FS-20059 C-131      
Upper Surface Camouflage
Spinners and Propellers
Unit Markings
A12 Medium brown FS-10075   XF-64    
Upper Surface Camouflage
Sometimes used as a primer
A13
(N12)
Dull brown FS-20061        
Primer
Spinners and Propellers
A14 light earth FS-30475        
Upper Surface Camouflage
Might be the same colour as A15
A15 Ivory yellow FS-20260        
Upper Surface Camouflage
Might be the same colour as A14
A16
(N13)
Yellow FS-13655   XF-3    
Wing leading edge
Unit Markings colours
Single overall colour of training aircraft
A17
(N14)
Deep yellow FS-23538        
Wing leading edge
Unit Markings colours
A18
(N16)
translucent blue
Aotake
FS-15125   any%X-25 any%X-23
over bare metal coat
   
Interior Primer
A19
(N18)
Red Orange FS-21400        
Single overall colour of training and experimental aircraft
A20
(N19)
Himomaru red weathered FS-21136        
Hinomaru weathered
A21
(N20)
Hinomaru red fresh FS-31350   XF-7    
Hinomaru fresh
Airframe waring stencils
Unit Markings colours
A22 dark blue FS-35048        
Anti glare
A23
(N21)
medium blue FS-35183        
Unit Markings colours
Spinners
A24
(N22)
blue-black FS17038 50% H-055
50% H-002
X-18    
Anti glare
Numerals and stencils
overall surfaces for night aircraft
  Natural metal   H-008 XF-16    
Unpainted surfaces

Navy

Code Colour FS equivalent Gunze Tamiya Vallejo AK
N1 Black Green FS-14056        
Single Overall Camouflage
Upper Surface Camouflage
Cowlings
N2 Dark Green FS-34058 H-059 XF-11    
Upper Surface Camouflage
N3 Dark Grey Green FS-34094        
Upper Surface Camouflage
N4 Light Grey Green FS-24226        
Cockpit, Interior
N5 Light Olive Green FS-34151        
Cockpit, Interior
N6 Buff Green FS-14255        
Rear Spars, Wheel wells, ect
N7 Black Grey FS-27040        
Single Overall Camouflage
Cowlings
N8 Dark Grey FS-36081        
Single Overall Camouflage
Upper Surface camouflage
N9 Medium Grey FS-34201        
Single Overall Camouflage
Undersurface
N10 Light Grey FS-26493   XF-12
XF-76
   
Single Overall Camouflage
Undersurface Camouflage
Unit Markings
N11 Medium Brown FS-26493   XF-10    
Upper Surface Camouflage
N12 Red Brown No close approximation        
Exterior Primer
N13
(A16)
Medium Yellow FS-20061   XF-3    
Single Overall Camouflage of trainer aircraft
N14
(A17)
Deep Yellow FS-13655        
Wing ID Markings, Unit Markings, Stencils
N15 Yellow Ochre FS-23538 10%H-003
90%H-014
     
Wing ID markings, Experimental Aircraft
N16
(A18)
Translucent Blue
Aotake
FS-15125   any%X-25 any%X-23
over bare metal coat
   
Bare Metal Prime Coat
N17 Translucent Green
Aotake
No close approximation   any%X-25 any%X-23
over bare metal coat
   
Bare Metal Prime Coat
N18
(A19)
Red Orange FS-21400        
Training, Experimental
Rare Hinomaru
N19
(A20)
Deep Red FS-21136        
Hinomaru
Unit Markings
N20
(A21)
Medium Red FS-31350   XF-7    
Hinomaru
Unit Markings
N21
(A23)
Medium Blue FS-35183        
Unit Markings
N22
(A24)
Black FS-17038        
Unit Markings, Anti-Glare, Overall, Stencils
  Natural metal          
Single Overall Camouflage
  White          
Single Overall Camouflage

(IJAAF) Kō-kaku 39 / 航格39

The kokaku 39, (陸軍航空機材料規格 航格第39) was a standard for paints used by the IJAAF.

Code Colour Equivalent Gunze Tamiya Hataka AK
#1
灰緑色
Hairyokushoku
Grey Green
ash green
FS-25622   XF-76   AK2261
Standard overall colour of aircraft fron 1936-1945
The precise appearance is still argued about.
Thorpe A4
Aviation of Japan – Army Hairyokushoku Part 1 
#2
黄橙色
Tohohshoku
Yellow Orange
         
Overall trainer Colour
#3
灰藍色
Hairanshoku
Ash Indigo
FS-25053 ?       AK2262
Interior Primer from 1936-1943, replacement of Aotake of army air craft. In practice this only happened for crew areas and Aotake kept being used as primer for other internal areas.
Known aircraft with this paint are the Type 91, Ki-21, Ki-27, Ki-36, Ki-43, Ki-44 and Ki-48
Different Sources often depict this colour as a lot less blue. As I personally have the most faith in this post from straggler in Aviation of Japan, I’ve choosen to depict it as such.
#4
赤褐色
Seki-Kashoku          
Propeller and Spinner Colour
#5 Gin-Iro
Silver
         
bare metal
#7
黄緑七号色
Ohryoku Nana Go Shoku
Olive Brown
FS-33070       AK2263
On the 14th of June 1944 a revisited ‘Rikugun kokuki tosou kitei’, Army Aircraft Painting Regulation was distributed. The new regulations weren’t applied immediately, with new aircraft only appearing from August onward, the Hayate even waiting to October.
Exterior colour from June 1944 onwards
Interior colour from June 1944 onwards
Please note that Kawasaki didn’t adhere to these regulations, and used
Aviation of Japan – Useful colours  ~ Army interiors part 2
AviationOfJapan – More about JAAF # 7
#9
赤色
           
Hinomaru’s
#10
赤色
Awai aka iro          
Hinomaru’s
#11
黒色
Kuro iro
black
         
Anti-Glare paint
#12
白色
Shiro iro
White
         
 
#13
青色
Ao iro
blue colour
         
http://www.aviationofjapan.com/2009/08/useful-colours-army-interiors-part-one.html
#14
黄色
Ki iro
FS-33538   XF-3    
Identification markings,
#17
淡青色
Tan Sei Shoku
FS-25352        
http://www.aviationofjapan.com/2009/02/ki-43-iii-ko-colours-part-3.html
#21
緑色
Midori iro
Green
IJA Green
FS-34108 C-129   HTK-A242 AK2264
Standard camouflage green of the Imperial Japanese Army aircraft, originally intended to be used with #27 Ao Midori Iro (Blue Green) in Luftwaffe style, later solid or mottle; in use in 1941-1945.
#22
濃緑色
Noh Ryoku Shoku
Deep green
         
 
#26 An Ryoku Shoku          
 
#27
青緑色
Ao Midori Iro
Blue Green
FS-34036       AK2265
Standard camouflage green of the Imperial Japanese Army aircraft, originally intended to be used with #21 Midori Iro (Green) in Luftwaffe style, later solid or mottle; in use in 1941-1945.
#29
黄緑色
Ki Midori Iro
Yellow Green
FS-34259
FS-34151
      AK2266
Aircraft interior colour used by the Imperial Japanese Army from circa 1943
Droptanks
#30
枯草色
Karekusa Iro
Dry Grass Colour
      HTK-A243 AK2267
Standard camouflage color of the Imperial Japanese Army aircraft, used together with green colours in the 1937-1945 period
#31
茶褐色
Cha Kasshoku
Tea Colour
      HTK-A241 AK2268
Standard camouflage colour of the Imperial Japanese Army aircraft, used together with greens in the 1937-1945 period.
#32
黒藍色
Koku Ran Shoku
black indigo colour
         
A very dark, blackish blue colour with slight purple undertones. Almost like an Eggplant.
Anti glare panels.
Nicholas Millman, Ki-61 and Ki-100 Aces (2015) Osprey Publishing
#33
柿色
カーキ色
kaaki iro
Khaki
         
 
#37
暗褐色
An Kasshoku
FS-34056 FS-34108      
Prop colour
#38
濃暗褐色
Noh An Kasshoku          
 
#39
草色
Kusa iro
FS-34056 FS-34108      
 
#43 Tochi Iro FS-36008        
The exact purpose and usage of this colour remain unknown, however it must have hold some significance, as it was included in 航格8609 as 2~2.
Aviation of Japan – Kawasaki Ki-100 Fighter Colours
黒褐色 Kuro Kasshoku
black brown
RAL-6014        
Overall colour of some Ki-100’s. Possibly a very dark variant of #7. The name is sometimes mistranslated to english as ‘charcoal’, resulting in planes depicted as black instead of very dark brown.
Aviation of Japan – Kawasaki Ki-100 Fighter Colours
Nicholas Millman, Ki-61 and Ki-100 Aces (2015) Osprey Publishing

(IJNAAF) 仮規117 / Kari Kikaku 117

The 海軍航空機用塗料識別標準 假規117 別冊, or ” Color identification Standard for Naval air plane –Temporary Specification No.117 Additional Volume”, often shorted to “Kari Kikaku 117” and abbreviated as “Kariki 117”, “Temporary Specification No.117”. It was published November 24 1938

The Kariki is a IJNAF specification which describes the colours used for painting aircraft from November 26 1938 onward. It contains 54 colours, divided in 17 series ranging from A to Q.

usage of this system was, as far as known, rather limited. The most famous use was in the空技報0266 / Kugiho 0266, a specification

Code Name translation   Code Name translation  
A 褐色 Kasshoku Brown J 灰色 Hai Iro Ash
B 赤色 Aka Iro Red K 灰青色 Grey Blue
C 黄色 Ki iro Yellow L 鼠色 Nezumi Iro Grey Rat colour
D 緑色 Midori Iro Green M 灰緑色 Hai Midori Iro Grey Green
E 青色 Ao Iro Blue N 小豆色 Azuki Iro Adzuki Bean
Russet
F 藍色 Ai Iro Indigo O 白色 Shiro Iro White  
G 菫色 Sumire Iro Violet P 銀色 Gin Iro Silver  
H 茶色 Cha Iro Tea Q 黒色 Kuro Iro Black  
I 土色 Tsuchi Iro Soil        
swatch Code Colour equivalent Gunze Tamiya Vallejo AK
A1
褐色
brown          
 
A2
褐色
brown          
 
A3
褐色
brown          
Primer
propeller blades and spinners
A4
褐色
brown          
 
B1
赤色
red          
 

B2
赤色
red          
Markings

B3
赤色
red          
 

B4
赤色
red          
 
C1
黄色
Yellow          
Propeller tip colour
C2
黄色
Yellow          
Overall trainer aircraft colour
C3
黄色
Yellow          
 
C4
黄色
Yellow          
 
D0
緑色
Green          
 
D1
緑色
Green          
ヨー105: Upper surface camouflage with J3 underside
cockpit panel colour of at least the Kyūshū Q1W Tokai.
D2
緑色
Green          
Camouflage paint
D3
緑色
Green          
 
D4
緑色
Green          
 
D5
緑色
Green          
 
E1
青色
Blue          
 
E2
青色
Blue          
 
E3
青色
Blue          
 
E4
青色
Blue          
 
F1
藍色
Indigo          
 
F2
藍色
Indigo          
 
F3
藍色
Indigo          
 
G1
菫色
Violet          
 
H1
茶色
Tea          
 
H2
茶色
Tea          
 
H3
茶色
Tea          
 
H4
茶色
Tea          
 
I1
土色
Soil          
 
I2
土色
Soil          
 
I3
土色
Soil          
 
J1
灰色
Grey          
 
J2
灰色
Grey          
ヨー113: Upper surface camouflage with J3 underside
J3
灰色
Grey          
ヨー105: overall aircraft camouflage, used as standard camouflage from 1937 to 1940.
ヨー107, 113, 151: underside camouflage
There seem to be multiple variants of this colour, 空技報0266 describes it as a greenish colour similar to M0/M1.
K1
灰青色
Grey Green          
 
K2
灰青色
Grey Green          
 
K3
灰青色
Grey Green          
 
K4
灰青色
Grey Green          
 
L1
鼠色
Rat grey          
 
L2
鼠色
Rat grey          
 
L3
鼠色
Rat grey          
 
M0
灰緑色
Grey Green     XF-71    
Official IJN cockpit interior colour
M1
灰緑色
Grey Green     XF-71    
Official IJN cockpit interior colour
ヨー151: Upper surface camouflage with J3 underside
M2
灰緑色
Grey Green          
Mitsubishi Interior Colour
M3
灰緑色
Grey Green          
Nakajima Interior Colour
N0
小豆色
Adzuki Bean
         
 
N1
小豆色
Adzuki Bean          
 
N2
小豆色
Adzuki Bean          
 
N3
小豆色
Adzuki Bean          
 
  O1
白色
White          
Markings
  P1
銀色
Silver          
Undersurface colour, alternative for J3
  Q1
黒色
Black          
Markings

Standard 8609 / 航格第8609

Near the end of the war shortages were more and more common. As a result there was a push to standardize the paints between the army and navy air forces. As a result on february 5 1945 the “Japan Aircraft Standards No. 8606 Aircraft Paint color standard” was distributed ( 日本航空機規格規 第8606 航空機用塗料色別標準 ). Not all colours in it were used. Very limited information of the application of this system is available as far as I’ve found.


http://www.j-aircraft.com/a6mresearch/accolors.htm
https://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/satsukiyamazakur/diary/200807150000/
https://ndlonline.ndl.go.jp/#!/detail/R300000001-I000007460147-00

Code Colour FS equivalent Gunze Tamiya Hataka AK
1~1   FS-33070        
replaced Army #7 after February 1945
1~2            
replaces Army #27
replaces Navy D2
1~3            
replaces Army #39
replaces Navy M1
1~4            
replaces Army #39
replaces Navy M1
1~5
草色
Kusa iro          
replaces Army #21
replaces Navy D4
2~1            
replaces Army #3
2~2            
replaces Army #43
2~3            
replaces Navy J1
2~4            
replaces Navy L3
2~5            
replaces Navy K3
2~6            
replaces Army #1
replaces Navy J3
2~7            
replaces Army #42
3~1            
replaces Navy N0
3~2            
replaces Army #4
replaces Navy A3
3~3            
replaces Navy I3
4~1            
replaces Navy C1
4~2            
replaces Army #14
replaces Navy C3
4~3            
replaces Army #2
replaces Navy H4
5~1            
replaces Army #9
replaces Navy #B2
5~2            
replaces Army #10
replaces Navy B3
6~1            
replaces Army #32
6~2            
replaces Army #13
6~3            
replaces Army #17
7~1 Black          
replaces Army #11
replaces Navy Q1
8~1 White          
replaces Army #12
replaces Navy O1
9~1 bare metal          
replaces Army #5
replaces Navy #P1

青竹, Aotake

When discussing Japanese paints, Aotake will inevitably come up. So what is Aotake? Aotake was a translucent blueish green coating used for interior surfaces on both army and navy aircraft.

Aotake finds it’s roots in urushi varnishes, lacquers made from the sap of the Toxicodendron vernicifluum, the Chinese lacquer tree. These forms of Aotake would be used for the protection of armour.

‘Modern’ Aotake was developed early 1930’s. For the army it was officially introduced on the 3rd of March 1932.

Similar in usage to the American zinc chromate, this Japanese enamel coating was of superior quality. It however remains a mysterious paints. Virtually forgotten after the war until the ’80, few intact samples remain after more than 75 years. Most salvaged aircraft were stripped of their original paints, and/or repainted.

Translation

The controversy of Aotake starts with the name. If you were to pull the word through google translate, the individual kanji would translate as “blue” (青, ao) and “bamboo” (竹, take). If both were to be translated together they however would result in “Green bamboo”.

So what causes this discrepancy? This is because colours are a spectrum, like the rainbow. Where the lines between colours are placed, where a colour ends and where a new one starts, sometimes differs from language to language. For example Russian sees light and dark blue as two distinct colours; Голубой (Goluboj, sky blue) and Синий (Sinij, darker blue).

In ancient time, Japanese didn’t have a distinction between blue and green, and both were called 青, ao. Later on, during the Heian period (794-1185) a distinct word for green was developed; 緑, midori. This however was still seen as a shade of aoi, 青, with the latter encompassing colours. Simular to how in English crimson and maroon would still be seen as a shades of red.

The split to two separate colours didn’t happen until after the second world war (maybe due to globalization?) meaning WWII era ao, 青 would encompass the part of the colour spectrum that in English is referred as either blue or green. Even to this day certain green objects are still referred to as ao, 青 in modern Japanese, such as plants and and traffic lights. This is also the reason for the earlier mentioned translation difference. This means there is no correct translation of aotake, 青竹, as the english lexicon doesn’t have a word for a colour that encompasses the full range of WWII ao, 青.

In some original Japanese documents the colour is also referred to as 青竹色, or aotakeshoku, where shoku, 色 means “colour”; blue green bamboo colour. It’s sometimes also written as 淡青色透明, thin translucent blue colour.

Aotake Variations. Note the bottom piece with the black coating.

Colour

As with most wartime primers and coating during the war, the exact shade wasn’t really important and as a result, different variations of aotake shade existed, ranging from the famous teal colour, to green and even brown.
Aotake in as of itself is colourless, with pigments added to aid in creating an even, thick enough coating. It’s metallic sheen comes comes from the aluminium underneath.

The colour difference is sometimes suggested to be the result of the paint fading, as this was quite common among other paints. There is however very little concrete evidence to support this. On the contrary, samples show that exposed areas showed very little fading when compared to covered areas when examining surviving wrecks. That is not to say they would look exactly the same. Because new coatings of Aotake would be applied throughout the manufacturing process, even after assembly, the covered parts wouldn’t necessary look the same as the uncovered parts.

Application and Usage

The way Aotake was is different then usual. Where the Americans for example applied their Zinc Chromate primer after assembly, the Japanese applied a layer Aotake after every step of the manufacturing process. When A part would be manufactured, it would receive a coat, and after assembly, it would for example receive a new coat. At the end there would be no metal visible

Photo by Ron Cole, used with permission.
http://colesaircraft.blogspot.com

At the end of the manufacturing process, the plane would sometimes receive a matte black coating. The reason for this is unknown, it might have been further protection, or to reduce de glare of the Aotake.

Photo by Ron Cole, used with permission.
http://colesaircraft.blogspot.com

The Japanese aircraft industry was quite decentralized, especially in the later stages of the war to try to evade allied bombing. This sometimes resulted in different parts being produced at different locations by different subcontractors. These often had different batches of Aotake they used on their parts after their assembly. This resulted in aircraft often having a variety of different shades of Aotake. Below an example of two different shades of Aotake encountered on the main wing spar of a Zero.

As far as I’m aware, neither of these differences are accounted for with restored aircraft, which are painted with the ‘regular’ style of primer application; only after assembly. This results in a even, mono-colour Aotake layer, where in reality different parts would have different colours, with different amount of application.

Reproduction

When painting Aotake as a modeller, there is no definitive Aotake colour, so don’t sweat about it. Use an Aluminium base and spray this over with translucent blue, green or a mix of the two and the result will most likely be correct. Personally I use Tamiya X-25 and X-23.

Much more important for the modeller with an eye for perfection is to use multiple shades of Aotake. make the landing legs more greenish while making the wheel bays bluer for example.

Sources & further reading

Leave a Reply

Close Menu