Do you believe ancient clans still exist in Japan today? Yes, they do as their descendants are still alive to this day. Generations and generations of respecting the value of family have made Japanese clan symbols, aka Kamon to survive.
- What is a Japanese clan?
- What is the most powerful Japanese clan?
- Japanese samurai clan names and their Kamon
- Do Japanese clans still exist?
- What does Kamon mean to Samurai?
1. What is a Japanese clan?
Japanese clans (Uji: 氏) are a group of people believed to have the same ancestors, a descent group of sorts. Families joined together with the clan as a unit and became an indigenous political group.
When the Yamato dynasty (Yamato Imperial Court) was formed around the 4th century in Nara, the clans were integrated and reorganized under the clan-surname system as patrilineal blood groups that supported and served the court and became the constituent units of the ruling class.
2. What is the most powerful Japanese clan?
When we think of the powerful clan in Japan, these four clans come in mind as they are the source of powerful samurai clans. We had more powerful clan other than them, but they didn’t flourish as the four did in history.
We call these four clans altogether as “Gem-pei-toh-kitsu” (源平藤橘). The Minamoto (源氏: Genji) and the Taira (平氏: Heishi) clans, the Fujiwara (藤原氏) and the Tachibana clans (橘氏). They are originated back in the 7th-9th century.
I’ll introduce each clan’s overview and kamon, but these crests are just one representative kamon of some branch. Keep in mind while many branches out of them have the same family crest, others have different ones.
The Minamoto clan (Genji)
The Minamoto clan has 21 branches, of which the Seiwa Minamoto clan was the most prosperous. People cite the Sasa-rindo (gentian) Kamon as the Minamoto clan crest as I introduced here, too. However, to be precise, the Sasa-rindo Kamon belongs specifically to the Yoshitoki branch.
Other than that, each branch has its own representative crest, such as the ivy crest for the Yoshiie and the bellflower crest for the Yorimitsu branches.
The Taira clan (Heishi)
The Taira clan has 19 branches. Out of them, a swallowtail butterfly Kamon belongs to the Kiyomori branch. Other branches such as Yoshifumi has a star crest, and the Yoshimasa branch has a horse crest as their representative Kamon.
The Fujiwara clan
Over 2,000 years in politics of Japan, this clan had been the dominating force. It has twenty plus branches. Toshihito and Hidesato branches of this clan adopted wisteria as their Kamon. Other branches such as the Kanemichi branch has a hollyhock, and the Michitaka branch has a fan crest as their Kamon.
The Tachibana clan
The founder of the Tachibana family was Katsuragi-oh, the descendant of the 30th Emperor Bidatsu, and it was his mother, Michiyo Agata Inukai, who received the surname Tachibana. The 43rd Empress Genmei saw tachibana floating in a cup at a banquet celebrating her accession to the throne, and gave the surname Tachibana to Michiyo, who was a court lady.
3. Japanese samurai clan names and their Kamon
Famous samurai clans have diverse Kamon over a long period of time. We introduce clan names and their family crests around 1570, when the “Siege of Nobunaga” was laid by a coalition of warring feudal lords, specifically anti-Oda Nobunaga.
Please notice we introduce a Kamon to each clan here, but it’s just a representative family crest. Many samurai clans had multiple Kamon for each occasion.
- The Nambu clan
- The Kasai clan
- The Mogami clan
- The Date clan
- The Ashina clan
- The Ando clan
- The Satake clan
- The Hojo clan
- The Satomi clan
- The Uesugi clan
- The Takeda clan
- The Hatakeyama clan
- The Tokugawa clan
- The Asakura clan
- The Asai clan
- The Rokkaku clan
- The Oda clan
- The Ukita clan
- The Amago clan
- The Mouri clan
- The Miyoshi clan
- The Chosokabe clan
- The Otomo clan
- The Ito clan
- The Ryuzoji clan
- The Sagara clan
- The Shimazu clan
4. Do Japanese clans still exist?
Out of many Japanese clans, thousands of branches are created and new family names are born along with it. And yes, Japanese clans still exist to this day.
Japanese Imperial Family
First of all, the Imperial family, which has officially continued for 2,600 years, now has its 126th emperor, Emperor Naruhito (as of 2023).
The Fujiwara clan
The descendants of the Fujiwara (藤原), who people assume the most prosperous descendants of any clan, are now scattered throughout Japan and continue to thrive and increase in number. The Fujiwara clan began with Nakatomi no Kamatari and gave birth to the four Fujiwara families. The most prosperous of these, the Northern House of the Fujiwara, produced many Fujiwara warriors, who are also called the “16 Fuji” (藤) as below.
There are families with surnames other than “Fuji (藤)” that continue to exist today, such as the Date family of Sendai.
The Taira clan
The Kanmu Taira clan, descendants of the 50th Emperor Kanmu, who were given the surname Taira, also have many descendants in modern times. Their ancestors rose to power in what is now the Kanto region, then known as Bando.
After the Hogen Disturbance (1156) and the Heiji Disturbance (1160), the Minamoto clan’s position declined, and the eventual winner, Taira no Kiyomori, established the Taira government as the first-ever Grand Minister of State from a samurai clan. Among their descendants, the Chiba clan of Chiba Prefecture and the Soma clan of Fukushima Prefecture have not lost their lineage until the present day.
The Minamoto clan
The Tokugawa clan, supposed to come down from the Seiwa Minamoto clan, which established the Kamakura shogunate after the fall of the Taira clan, and the Ashikaga clan, which restored its surname in the Meiji era (1868-1912), is another prominent family that has continued to the present day.
The Shimazu clan
The Shimazu clan of Kagoshima Prefecture, which has its roots in the Hata clan, a naturalized clan, is another well-known family that continues to this day.
5. What does Kamon mean to Samurai?
The family crest is a symbol of ancestor worship that contains the life and spirit of the ancestors. They say the breath of the forebears is in it and their blood flows through the family crest. Samurai family crests were to identify war merits on the battlefield, originally began as flag crests.
The family crest is a symbol of ancestor worship that contains the life and spirit of the ancestors. They say the breath of the forebears is in it, and their blood flows through the family crest. Samurai family crests were to identify war merits on the battlefield, originally began as flag crests.
Samurai clans were armed groups entrusted by the imperial court to settle disputes. Samurai Kamon has roughly three types. One is the shobu (warrior) crest which symbolizes strength and samurai character. The second is the religious crest which was derived from a specific faith. And the third is the auspicious crest, which carries good fortune.
As Samurai kept bakufu (the samurai government) from the 12th century, they put Kamon as a status symbol. And samurai came to possess multiple family crests according to their purposes, including a Kamon given by the imperial court, an ancestral crest, and a simple battlefield crest for mass production that is easy to distinguish.
The family crest/Kamon is a unique symbol that clearly indicates one’s origin, symbolizes status and honor, and contains a prayer for survival and continued prosperity for one’s descendants.