Japanese Heraldry

Japanese heraldry uses several strategies to generate new kamon variations. Apart from enclosures and blenders, there are numerous fixed patterns that are recurrently applied to emblems: the X or “crossing” pattern, the “embracing” pattern, the “splitting” pattern, the “inverting” pattern… Those are but a few examples of recurrent patterns that compose Japanese heraldry. Below is a (non exhaustive) glossary of kamon design patterns: Agari ascending Atsume gathering Chigai crossing Chūkage emptied Chū-wa semi thick circle Daki embracing Eda-maru branch circle Fusen butterfly-shaped Futae double-layered Gyōyō saddle ornament shaped Hoso-wa thin circle Irechigai upside down Ito-wa thread circle Janome snake eye Kage inverted Kana-wa metal ring KashiraRead More →

In 1906, Hugo Gerard Ströhl, a famous Austrian heraldist, publishes Japanisches Wappenbuch, probably the first foreign book entirely devoted to Japanese heraldry. This 253-page publication proposes a bibliography that lists up both Japanese and foreign texts, including Georges Appert’s Ancien Japon. Follow a rather extensive historical study and a long list of daimyo (warlords) and their respective kamon. Ströhl finishes with a short chapter on flags and banners. Ströhl’s work is still to this day one of the most researched foreign publication on Japanese heraldry. (STRÖHL Hugo Gerard, Japanisches Wappenbuch, Wien, Aaton Schroll & Со., 1906) In 1909, Gordon Ambrose Lee publishes “Some Notes on Japanese Heraldry” in the Transactions and Proceedings ofRead More →

The first study of Japanese heraldry appears in 1877 in the journal Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan. Thomas McClatchie examines some historical points about kamon, but also discusses some aspects of a modern type of heraldry that was emerging in Japan by then and was closer to what we know in the west. At the end of his article, McClatchie presents the design of eighty-four mon along with some flags ans standards. After McClatchie, the topic of Japanese heraldry will start to become trendy,  and at the turn of the century, many people will start to publish articles and books on the subject.Read More →

If there are numerous vernacular publications on the subject of Japanese heraldry, their number drops however small when it comes to foreign languages. So far, the most “researched” publication on monshō in English is probably John Dower’s The Elements of Japanese Design, published in 1971. This book features over 2,000 mon in black and white thumbnails and a detailed chapter on the history and symbolism of Japanese heraldry, with bibliographic notes. Dower, however, did not attempt to discuss much the aesthetics aspects of the insignias. (Dower John, The Elements of Japanese Design, Boston, Weatherhill, 1971) Pioneer works in the field of Japanese heraldry appeared fromRead More →

Tiles of the Otaki fortress (Chiba Prefecture) emblazoned with the Mitsu Ōgi. The three fans insignia was used by the Okouchi Matsudahira clan, the last lords of Otaki before the fall of the feudal regime at the end of the 19th century. the Mitsu Ōgi (Three Fans) mon Before the Okouchi Matsudahira, the castle was ruled by the powerful House Honda. General Honda Tadakatsu (1548-1610) was appointed by Tokugawa Ieyasu to the Otaki fortress in 1590 to control the Satomi, a rival clan. the Honda Tachi Aoi (House Honda standing wild ginger) Before the Honda, Otaki was under the control of the Masaki Clan (retainers of theRead More →

Here is a list of words used to denote Japanese heraldic insignia: — Mon, 紋 -> insignia. — Kamon, 家紋 -> family insignia. — Monshō, 紋章 -> family insignia. — Mondokoro, 紋所 -> family insignia. — Daimon, 大紋 -> “large insignia”. A fashion adopted by the highest-ranked warlords. Their mon was painted or embroidered on their garment, in a very large format, in ten locations. — Jōmon, 定紋 -> the official insignia of a clan or a family. — Honmon, 本紋 -> as above, the official mon of a clan or a family. — Shōmon, 正紋 -> same as above. — Omotemon, 表紋 -> sameRead More →

The first problem one encounters when talking about Japanese heraldry in a foreign language is how to actually translate the word kamon. In English, people generally use the words “crest” or “seal”. This is convenient, but unfortunately far from accurate. A seal is a device generally made of stone, wood or metal, on which a specific design is carved, and used in order to make an impression so one can authenticate a document. If seals do exist in Japan, they are in most cases carved with Chinese or Japanese characters, and almost never with heraldic signs, so we prefer to dismiss the word seal when translatingRead More →

Heraldry is the science of armorial bearings. Like in Europe, Japan possesses a very ancient heraldic tradition, although very different from the coats of arms of the West. Japanese heraldic signs are generally referred to as kamon; they usually feature a circular-shaped design, monochromatic, based on symmetries and representing plants, flowers, natural elements, animals, etc. The Japanese word for “heraldry” is monshō-gaku, 紋章学, which literally translate to “study of insignia”, where gaku means “study” and monshō  broadly “insignia”. Nevertheless, Japanese people nowadays usually use the word kamon rather than monshō to designate heraldic signs. The word kamon is composed of two characters: 家紋, where 家Read More →