Kamon Symbols of Japan
Brief Overview of Japanese family Crest "Kamon"
Japanese Unique Emblem System
The term "Kamon" refers to a crest used in Japan to indicate one's origins; that is, one's family lineage, blood line, ancestry and status from ancient times. It is also referred to simply as “Mondokoro” or “Mon”. It is said that there are more than 20,000 distinct individual Kamon in Japan. Kamon are often referred to as Family Crests which are European heraldic device similar to the Kamon in function, but it is different in many ways. Except for European heraldic device, none of the countries have similar traditional heraldic device system which identifies family or clan. Kamon is a unique culture and tradition you can find only in Japan.
Spread of use of Kamon among Samurai and the Nobility
It can be said that Kamon is an example of Japan's own culture which has been in use up to the present day. A Kamon was created to serve as an unique emblem that represented a family's identity, clearly revealing the family name of its owner. Later, Buke (samurai warriors) and Kuge (the nobility) made use of Kamon, which are classified into some groups according to blood line or historical origin. Each group consists of representative Kamon and their variations. Kamon spread widely and were used on even graves, furniture, and ships. It was natural for Kamon to be placed on weapons like Samurai Sword (Katana) and Samurai armor (Kacchu). However, although there were no limitations placed upon usage, freely using other family's Kamon caused friction or conflict. Especially using Kamon of a higher class, such as Daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) or Shogun (general) created more friction. Hence, there was an unspoken rule to avoid using the Kamon that is already used by high class clan or family as much as possible.
Kamon became the symbol of Japanese Samurai
The origin of Kamon goes far back to the latter part of Heian Period. Around the end of Heian Period, Kuge (the noblity) such as; Sanesue SAIONJI and Saneyoshi TOKUDAIJI, began placing their own Mon on their oxcarts and walked around Streets, showing off their Mon. Afterwards, Kamon became popular among Kuge and various Kamon were created. The Kamon of Buke (Samurai warriors) were created later than those of Kuge at the end of the Heian Period, when conflict between Heiji-clan and Genji-clan became more violent. It is considered to have originated from the fact that Samurai used their original designs on Hatamaku (samurai flag) or Manmaku (samurai curtains) to advertise their achievements or to show off. It seems that in the middle of Kamakura Period almost all samurai displayed Kamon and this became an established custom among samurai class.
Transitional Expansion From Samurai Army Standard to Common Emblem of Japan
During the peaceful, tranquil, rather uneventful, Edo Period, there were few hard battles fought among samurai so, the former practical role of Kamon, such as; distinguishing friend from foe in battle, had changed to be a kind of symbol of authority. Japan was a hierarchical society of samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants during the Edo period, and Kamon were used as a means of indicating the social status of your family to others and ascertaining the social standing and lineage of others, enabling you and your family to dress accordingly. In addition, Kamon were possessed and used by common people as well. This was in stark contrast to European countries, where only aristocrats could use a crest. Farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen, and even entertainers like Rakugo story tellers, actors, and Yujo (prostitute) used Kamon. At the end of the Edo Period, Kamon designs were reputed highly and used for pictures of Japonism in art nouveau in Europe. In addition, from an aesthetic aspect, Japanese Kamon are well known abroad because of the symbolic design and simple structure, and is often used in various designs.
"Kamon" in Contemporary Japanese Society
Every Japanese Have Own "Kamon"
Virtually all modern Japanese families have their own "Kamon" crest. On occasions when the use of a Kamon is required, one can try to look up their families in the temple or shrine registries of their ancestral hometown or consult one of the many genealogical publications available. Also, many websites offer Kamon lookup services.
You Can Still Find "Kamon" Everywhere In Japan
Kamon are seen widely on stores and shops engaged in traditional crafts and specialties. They are favored by sushi restaurants, which often incorporate a Kamon into their logos. Also, many companies such as "Mitsubishi" have their company logo originated from Kamon. Kamon designs can even be seen on the ceramic roof tiles of older houses. Kamon designs frequently decorate sake, tofu and other packaging for food products to lend them an air of elegance, refinement and tradition.The paulownia Kamon appears on the obverse side of the 500 yen coin, and Imperial Kamon appears on Japanese Passport.
"Kamon" Shows One's Honor and Pride
Kamon add formality to a kimono, which is the Japanese Traditional Cloth. A kimono may have one, three or five Kamon. The Kamon themselves can be either formal or informal, depending on the formality of the kimono. Very formal kimono display more Kamon, frequently in a manner that makes them more conspicuous. In the dress of the high class people, the Kamon could be found on both sides of the chest, on each sleeve, and in the middle of the back.
History of "Kamon" Symbols in Japan
Heian and Kamakura Periods
The origin of Kamon goes far back to the latter part of Heian Period. Since the Nara Period, when Shotokutaishi (Prince Shotoku) lived, various designs had decorated furniture and dishes which later were not only for artistic quality, but also to distinguish the property of Kuge who served the Imperial court. Around the end of Heian Period, Kuge such as; Sanesue SAIONJI (西園寺実季) and Saneyoshi TOKUDAIJI, began placing their own Mon on their oxcarts and walked around Miyako-oji Street (都大路), showing off their Mon. This theory on the origin of Kamon is considered to be the most prevalent. Hakuseki ARAI wrote in his book that the Mon used in 'Kinugasa (蓋)' was the origin of Kamon, however, others claim that this was just heresy and the true origin remains inconclusive.
Afterwards, Kamon became popular among Kuge and various Kamon were created. For example, Sanesue SAIONJI used 'Saya-e,' Saneyoshi TOKUDAIJI used 'Mokko-mon' and the Sugawara and other clans used glitzy Kamon like Ume-mon. There was a strong sense of color in the design, but by the Kamakura period the Kamon had gradually developed and evolved to take on the more traditional role and connotations of Kamon and served as proof of ownership.
The Kamon of Buke were created later than those of Kuge at the end of the Heian Period, when conflict between Gempei (TAIRA-MINAMOTO) became more violent. It is considered to have originated from the fact that Buke used their original designs on Hatamaku (旗幕) or Manmaku (curtains) to advertise their achievements or to show off. The Minamoto clan flew a white flag and the Taira clan flew a red flag on the battlefield in order to distinguish friend from foe. There were no emblems on their flags, that could be the origin of Kamon used later, but a follower, Kodama-to (児玉党), one of the Musashi-shichito (seven samurai from Musashi country), flew a flag with a 'Touchiwa' of the Gunbaiuchiwa-mon (軍配団扇紋), that was later used as Kamon of the Kodama clan. Therefore, it can be considered that Buke's Kamon were also created in the latter part of the Heian Period as well as those of Kuge, but only a few Kamon were seen then and its explosive proliferation began after the Kamakura Period. It seems that in the middle of Kamakura Period almost all samurai displayed Kamon and this became an established custom among samurai class.
During the Kamakura Period, when there were many wars raging, like the Jokyu no ran and Bunei-Koan no eki, they provide many opportunities for samurai to prove themselves in battle. To identify themselves, confirm their achievements and distinguish friend from foe, samurai decorated all manner of things with Kamon, including Manmaku, flags, Umajirushi and sword scabbards. Kamon were a kind of alternate identity so, it was increasingly used among samurai to show who they were. In addition, the increased use of Kamon was also motivated by recognizing achievements that contributed to clans they belonged to in the ancient samurai society.
While Kamon were spreading rapidly among samurai during the Kamakura Period, Kuge did not have a need to use Kamon to boast their achievements. The use of Kamon almost died out at the beginning of Muromachi Period. The idea to use crests to identify a specific clan originated from the samurai class and the status of the clan, or Myoji, originally communicated it's power and history. Therefore, Kamon of Kuge can be perceived as 'an invented tradition,' adopted by the samurai class.
During the period of the Northern and Southern Courts (Japan) the clothes, Hitatare (ancient ceremonial court robe) to which Kamon such as 'Daimon' were sewn, became popular among samurai. During the Muromachi Period, clothes with emblems were called ceremonial robes, but the idea that an emblem sewn on a ceremonial robe should have been a Kamon was not a common one. The idea is said to have begun around the Higashiyama period, the middle of Muromachi period, when clothes like 'Suo' and 'Kataginu,' developed from Daimon, were becoming fashionable. Around the same time, haori (a Japanese formal coat) was created. In addition, some families with the same Myoji had a common Kamon, but at the beginning of the Muromachi Period battles among them increased. Using the same Kamon caused confusion between friend and foe so, that the number of Kamon rapidly began to increase around this time.
At the same time Kamon in two or three colors, called 'Hyo-mon (平紋),' were popular. For example, there is a portrait of Kiyomasa KATO, a samurai who fought in Korea during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, who put s Chinese bell flower, of Hyo-mon design, on short-sleeved kimono, in Kinji-in Temple (勤持院) in Kyoto Prefecture. This design remained popular during the Edo Period, and at the time when glitzy Kamon were popular during the Genroku era, and overbearing showy people especially favored using them.
During the peaceful, tranquil, rather uneventful, Edo Period, there were few hard battles fought among samurai so, the former practical role of Kamon, such as; distinguishing friend from foe in battle, had changed to be a kind of symbol of authority.
Japan was a hierarchical society of samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants during the Edo period, and Kamon were used as a means of indicating the social status of your family to others and ascertaining the social standing and lineage of others, enabling you and your family to dress accordingly.
In addition, Kamon were possessed and used by common people as well. This was in stark contrast to European countries, where only aristocrats could use a crest. Farmers, tradesmen, craftsmen, and even entertainers like Rakugo story tellers, actors, and Yujo (prostitute) used Kamon.
While common farmers, tradesmen and craftsmen could not officially use Myoji, they were not regulated concerning the use of Kamon that became to function as signs of a family or a clan. Farmers, tradesmen, and craftsmen, could not officially use Myoji so, many of them used private Myoji in the villages. This originated from the structure of the village in the Medieval times, and Jizamurai (provincial samurai in the middle ages, who engaged in agriculture during peacetime) and Otonabyakusho used Myoji. Therefore, followers, Nago and Hikan, used the same Myoji as that of their ruler, based upon their territorial connections. Kamon were handed down in each family with this Myoji and began to be used among the common people's private Myoji in recent times. Kamon does not necessarily correspond to blood line except in cases where descent is clear (especially among common people) (even if Kamon is common in a noble family, it does not mean they have common blood).
Also, during the Edo Period, the custom of including Kamon on ceremonial dress such as 'Haori' and 'Kamishimo,' became common place. During the Genroku era life gradually became more extravagant so, people without Kamon were offered the opportunity to have Kamon; for example, lower-class people favored 'Gosan no Kiri' according to the time-honored custom of Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI. Besides, common Kamon also became decorative and Kamon of samurai and common people were both designed to be glitzy and graceful. It is thought that during this period, bilaterally symmetrical and diphycercal and circled Kamon began to increase.
At the end of the Edo Period, Kamon designs were reputed highly and used for pictures of Japonism in art nouveau in Europe.
After Meiji Period
During the Meiji Period, although Western culture was introduced, western clothing did not rapidly become widespread except for among the higher class, and common people instead began to increasingly use Kamon for example, on Mompuku (clothing decorated with one's family crest) and tombstones, thanks for the abolishment of the caste system. They were also often used as a symbol of nationalism or family. For example, Kamon were shaped to order on the grip of Gunto (saber) by silversmiths. After defeat in World War II, social pressure, which peaked during the war, was denied as 'militaristic' and 'feudalistic,' and Kamon was seen as one of the fostering symbols. Accordingly, with the increasing interest in Western culture, people had seldom put on Mompuku and as a result have become less familiar with Kamon. However, almost all families have more than one Kamon even today, which have been used on ceremonial occasions. Moreover, from an aesthetic aspect, Japanese Kamon are well known abroad because of the symbolic design and simple structure, and is often used in various designs.