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. Japan has 241 kinds of Kamon, with 5,116 individual Kamon variations in total.
While the term "symbol" in English means an abstract design and "emblem" means visual design, "Kamon" in Japan is expressed as " " in English in the sense of 'Kabutokazari (兜飾り).'
This is because the component of an individual crest in the West has the same function as that in Japan, having the same component in common to identify a family. The Japanese term can be transliterated to ',' in some cases.
It can be said that Kamon is an example of Japan's own culture which has been in use up to the present day. In the age of 'Gen Pei To Kitsu,' when a strong Shizoku family like the Minamoto clan, the Taira clan, or the Fujiwara or Tachibana clans, were in their prime, a part of the Shizoku population that moved to local regions began to use other names, for example like a place name, for its Kamei (Yago, house name) to distinguish themselves from other people from the same clan, and this led to Myoji (family name) being used later. 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, that are classified into some groups according to blood line or historical origin. Each group consists of representative Kamon and their variations. In addition, some Kamon, created by Gozoku (a powerful family (clan)), have been handed down and are still in use.
Multiple Kamon were allowed, except for particular crests, and Kamon spread widely and were used on even graves, furniture, and ships. Kamon were commonly used in daily life. It was natural for Kamon to be placed on weapons like katana (single-edged swords) and Kacchu (armor and helmets). 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 other Jomon (family crests) as much as possible.
Jomon and Daihyomon (代表紋)
When Shizoku, such as Minamoto, Taira, Fujiwara, Tachibana, Mononobe, and Otomo clans were in flourishing, thousands of Myoji were created and then Kamon gradually came into use. Without regard as to whether Kamon belonged to the same or another clan, some clans used different Kamon from those of other clans who had the same Myoji. However, unlike in the Genroku era, during the Edo Period, there were few types of Kamon in use during the Kamakura and Heian Periods shortly after Kamon were first created. Consequently, more beautiful, popular, or simpler Kamon, that were easier to draw, tended to be favored, and while some clans who had the same Myoji used different Kamon, many clans who had different Myoji used the same Kamon.
The Kamon often used among the same clan were called Daihyomon or Omotemon (表紋) and were treated as the representative Mon of the clan. For example, Houses which were separated from the Fujiwara clan, such as Nagaya (長家) and Nasu (那須) made 'Ichimonji-mon' as the representative Mon they used most often. In addition, it was common to use various Kamon among clans that had the same Myoji so official Kamon were needed to show their formal Kamon.
Those Kamon used by each individual were called Jomon or 'Hon-mon' or 'Sei-mon (正紋).'
Basically, Daimyo and Shogun passed Jomon only to their heirs so, authority, value, and the necessity of Jomon were strengthened along with the increase of the number of Kae-mon (as bellow) which were allowed to be possessed.
Kae-mon and Tsu-mon (通紋)
As mentioned above, few clans had only one Kamon and usually one clan had various Kamon. Kamon were often exchanged between clans and were also freely created. Therefore, many clans had many Kamon which deviated from the original meaning.
For this reason, Kamon other than Jomon, official Kamon to normally identify a clan, were called 'Kae-mon.'
Additionally, they were also called 'Ura-mon,' 'Betsu-mon (別紋),' 'Fuku-mon,' or 'Hikae-mon (控紋).'
During the Edo Period, the number of Kamon increased more and more. Popular glitzy and decorative Kamon increased and were inevitably used by many people.
Those Kamon which a few clans or persons could not exclusively dominate were called 'Tu-mon.'
Tu-mon' are often generally found among the graceful Kamon like 'Hanabishi-mon (花菱紋).'
For example, 'Gosan no Kiri' is often found on costumes for rent as it is a fairly commonly used Kamon.
The exchange of Kamon
Kamon have often been exchanged from one person to another. Since, with the exception of some special Kamon, there have been no limitations on usage until now, however, someone who gave their Kamon to another person could also use it for himself.
For example, the Kiku-mon (chrysanthemum crest) of imperial family is a typical Kamon. The Emperor awarded it to persons of merit like Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI.. To the contrary, some Shogun presented Kiri-mon, that they received from the Emperor, to their own followers who served them well. It is said that this custom originated from a historical event when Yoshimitsu ASHIKAGA gave his Kamon (Zo-mon (贈紋)) to Yoriyuki HOSOKAWA during the Muromachi Period. These exchanges are called Shiyo (gift, esp. to subordinates), and it is said that the clan who was given Kamon, for example, Hairyo-mon, was pleased as it was a great honor for the clan. Yoshiteru ASHIKAGA, the 13th Shogun of the Muromachi bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun), gave Kiri-mon to Nobuhide ODA, the father of Nobunaga ODA, it was then taken over by Nobunaga from his father. A portrait of him putting on his clothes with Kiri-mon displayed on his shoulders remains at the Choko-ji Temple (Toyota City). In addition, it is said that OTOMO, in Bungo, called those who were given its Mon, 'Godo-monshu (御同紋衆)' and gave them important positions.
Some Kamon were given from one person to another who were both at the same status level, mostly at the time of succession of Katoku (family estate) or time of marriage.
In the Kansai region, where marriage was seen as a bond between two families, a bride brought Kamon-onnamon (家紋女紋) from her family's home (for details, see the article of Kamon-onnamon).
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.
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.
Kiku-mon and Kiri-mon
Jurokuyaegiku (十六八重菊) of Kiku-mon has been recognized as the Kamon of imperial family by the bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) and common people from ancient times, and Goshichi no kiri of Kiri-mon was used as Kae-mon of Kiku-mon. Emperors often gave Kiku-mon and Kiri-mon to persons who contributed much to the imperial family, which is said to originate from the historical event where the Retired Emperor Gotoba gave his favorite sword on which Kiku-mon was mounted to loyal supporters who tried to overthrow the Kamakura bakufu at the time of Jokyu no ran. There are more recent examples where Takauji ASHIKAGA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI were also given Kiku-mon and Kiri-mon. It was glorious and honorable to be given Kiku-mon and it is said that the Kamon which was given was mainly Kiri-mon of Kae-mon, and some rulers such as Sessho (regent, regency), Kanpaku (chief adviser to the Emperor), Seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") and Daijo-daijin (Grand Minister) gave Kiri-mon to their followers who contributed much to their policies. The authority of the Kamon of the imperial family, Kiku-mon and Kiri-mon, increasingly became stronger so much that in 1591 and 1595 Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI implemented regulations to forbid unauthorized use of Kiku-mon and Kiri-mon.
Under the Edo bakufu, during the administration of the Tokugawa clan after the Toyotomi administration, the regulation gradually became tempered and the Edo bakufu tended to present its authority to be higher than that of the Imperial Court in Kyoto, so the usage and prevalence of Kiku-mon among common people had been spurred by ornaments such as clasps and carvings of Buddhist objects, design of Japanese cakes and the design of store curtains.
The bakufu was comparatively tolerant about using Kamon, but it strictly forbade the use of Aoi-mon, the Kamon of Tokugawa clan.
Then later, under the Meiji Government the usage of Jurokuyaegiku was forbade completely except by the imperial family. Shinno-ke was also forbidden to use Kiku-mon and the related shrines and temples such as Hachiman Shrine and Senyu-ji Temple were also forbidden, so the authority of Kiku-mon of imperial family was gradually revived. At present 'Jurokuyaegiku,' which is the Kamon of the imperial family is treated as national emblem under customary law. The Jurokukiku design (chrysanthemum), which is similar to Jurokuyaegiku, is used for passports issued by Japan, Diet member's pin, etc. So far there are no laws or regulations that determine a specific Kiku-mon as a national emblem in Japan.
It is said that Kiri-mon became the imperial Kamon in the middle of the Kamakura Period just before Genko (the Mongol Invasion). The popular Kamon, Gosan no kiri and circled Gosan no kiri, was 'the Kamon used when a common person with no Kamon required one (e.g., wearing hakama (a divided skirt) with Kamon)),' an example of this is Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, who was regarded to have peasant roots in Taiko-ki and according to tradition, and this spread generally by reverse reasoning to that of the higher class. Also, it is often used in costumes for rent at present.
When Meiji Government was established and legally regulated the usage of Kiku-mon, there were no legal regulations applied to Kiri-mon. It is thought that it was because Kiri-mon had been often handed over to followers of Shogun-ke (family positioned to accede to the shogunate) since the Muromachi Period and some families had used it as Kamon, which Meiji Government considered against. However, the authority of Kiri-mon is not diminished and Goshichi kiri is used as the emblem of the Cabinet and government as customary during the issue of case documents, and recently it is being established as the emblem of the Japanese prime minister abroad. Kiri-mon has a character used as an emblem to identify the government, and it is included on coins such as koban (former Japanese oval gold coin) during the Edo Period, coins after Meiji Period and the 500-yen coin, the largest coin in present use.
Shrine Mon and Jimon
In addition, shrines and temples each have their own Mon, which are called Shrine Mon and Jimon that are especially, distinguished from Kamon. School emblems and organizational emblems such as those used by companies also exist, but they are greatly outnumbered by the various Kamon that exist so Japanese scholars in this field generally consider "emblem" to mean "Kamon."
For Shrine Mon, Kamon of Kuge or Buke which is related to each shrine, is used and original designs like those from the T'ang-Dynasty and others, related to the origin of a shrine, are often used as well. In the lineage of Shinto priest, Shrine Mon replaces Kamon (Hanabishi-mon, Kashiwa-mon and so on).
Onnamon (women's emblem)
This is one custom spread mainly in the western part of Japan around Kinai (Kansai district). Onnamon is an emblem which has succeeded among the female line, that differs in design and origin from parent's family's Kamon. It is said that the Mon succeeding in the female line was created naturally because in the merchant families of the Kansai area the talented daughter's husband often inherited the family business. Especially in merchant families in the Kinki region, it is said that 'a family with only one Kamon should not be called an old-established family' so that a family with successive Onnamon is often reverently regarded as a considerable old family. In regions like Kanto, except for Kansai, this custom is seldom seen so, that in places that do not practice the custom of Onnnamon, some families show disapproval of marriage because of custom differences (they insist that a bride should use her husband's family's Kamon). This custom remains deeply rooted at present.
During the time when marriage was mainly a bond between two families, some brides brought Onnamon to their husbands' house. The designs of Onnamon are based upon Kamon, but many of them are somewhat feminine. While many women use their parents' family's Kamon on Tomesode (formal, usually black, kimono with designs along the bottom of the skirt worn by married women on ceremonial occasions), the women who succeed Onnamon use it on Tomesode.
Design and formation of Mon
Some mon are designed independently, some mon are framed by a circle or a square, some are mixed with letters and other things, etc. Since there are no specific terms for them, we use temporary names for the sake of convenience here.
One Mon consists of an inside part called Mi (身) or Uchi (内) and an another outside part called Wa (輪), Waku (枠) or Soto (外). The formation depends upon the category of the Mon (here it means a large category such as Kiri-mon and Hishi-mon temporarily), and there are many types of formations in accordance with the function in order to compose the design of Mon.
For example, classification by function is as follow.
Tansu (singular)(単数) - Mon which consists individually.
Kikyo-Mon 'Kikyo,' Karasu-mon 'Karasu' and so on.
Soshiki (composition)(組識) - A combination of Mon.
Futatsu (two)(二つ), Mittsu (three)(三つ), Mori (putting)(盛り), Narabi (line)(並び), Chigai (difference)(違い), Daki (hug)(抱き), Tsui (a pair)(対い), Kashira (head)(頭), Shiriawase (back-to-back)(尻合わせ), Irechigai (pass something as another enters)(入れ違い), Kasane (overlap)(重ね), Yae (eightfold)(八重), Hiyoku (two birds side by side with their wings spread)(比翼), Tabane (tie)(束ね), Kumiai (combination)(組合い), De, shutsu (out)(出).
Keyo (features)(形容) - Mon which is changed as a whole.
In (yin)(陰), Ura (back)(裏), Tate (竪), Sumitate (隅立), Kawari (change)(変わり), Oni (ogre)(鬼), Togari (sharp)(尖り), Sori (warpage)(反り), Mukumi (swelling)(むくみ)
Fuzoku (attachment)(付属) - Parts attached to a part of Mon.
Ken (sword)(剣), Tsuru (volubile stem)(蔓), Eda (branch)(枝), Sui, mizu (water)(水), Hana (flower)(花), Fusa (cluster)(房)
Henkei (transformation)(変形) - a Mon which is arranged a little without changing itself.
Tomoe (three-way)(巴), Maru, Gan (circle)(丸), Kaku, Tsuno (square)(角), Bishi (rhombus)(菱), Kuzushi (break)(崩し), Nozoki (peek)(覗き), Mame (beans)(豆), Nenji (pray)(捻じ) and so on.
Gitai (mimesis)(擬態) - Mon which resemble other Mon.
Kuruma (car)(車), Ogi (fan)(扇), Cho (butterfly)(蝶), Tsuru (crane)(鶴), Kiri (桐), Musubi (tie)(結), Fusen (浮線) and so on.
Gaikaku (outline)(外郭) - Mon that surround the above Mon.
Kaku, Wa (Wa (Maru), Yukiwa)), Kikko, Kokumochi, etc.
For example, 'circled single falcon wing' is the Mon which consists of Tansu 'one falcon wing' inside Gaikaku 'Maru,' and a 'circled and outlined falcon wing' is the Mon which consists of lined ('Narabi') Tansu 'one falcon wing ' inside Gaikaku 'Maru.'