Kamon, the Japanese family crest is an indication of a family’s origins. Unlike the coat of arms, it doesn’t belong to an individual but to a family. Foreigners can have one if they wish. Inheriting the Kamon from generation to generation will encourage a family to prosper for a long time to come.
What is Kamon in Japan?
A Kamon represents the family’s status and origin, the meaning and wishes. Every family in Japan has at least one Kamon, which was originally engraved on ceremonial clothing, furnishings, tombstones, and other items. During the Edo period (1603-1867), the number of family crests increased explosively and their use flourished.
Many entities in Japan has pictorial marks (kind of logo symbol) . Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, schools, and even local governments have logo symbols, however, they are not Kamons. Kamon (家紋) literally means family crest in Japanese.
Today, it is not unusual for even Japanese people to be unaware of their own family crests. But not a few foreigners find it truly fascinating and value a lot.
Brief History of Kamon
The patterns used by court nobles from around the Nara period (710-194) gradually came to represent each family. In the warrior class, family crests developed rapidly in the early Kamakura period (1185-1333) to distinguish friend and foe on the battlefield, and to show war merits.
They originally developed from the makumon (curtain with a crest). They were painted not only on flags, but also on helmets and armor sleeves, not only to distinguish friend and foe, but also to make one’s own identity clear.
May wars and conflicts encouraged Kamon to develop and increase its numbers. When samurai didn’t have to battle any more in the Tokugawa period (1603-1867), Kamon began to sophisticate . People started to put Kamon on clothes and it changed the Kamon design to be symmetric and circled.
The common people began using Kamon in the 19th century after they are allowed to use family names. However, after the Meiji Restoration, the custom of wearing ceremonial clothes with family crests fell into disuse due to the popularity of Western-style clothing. Still, they put them on occasions like wedding ceremonies or funerals.
Can foreigners have Kamon?
Anyone who wish to have a Kamon can have one. Even who has not any Japanese blood relation can have Kamon since those who own a family crest do not need to report it anywhere, but rather pass it down from generation to generation. It is about family tie, legacy, and prosperity wishes for family.
Even commoners could use family crests, but in special cases they were prohibited by law. That is, when people presumed to use or steal prohibited family crests. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was the first to issue a ban on the use of the chrysanthemum and paulownia crests in the 16th century.
Today, only the use of the chrysanthemum crest is prohibited due to its exclusive use by the Imperial family.
Can you create your own Kamon?
Perhaps this is the most beautiful thing about Kamon in Japan. You can create your own Kamon if you desire. Again, unless you use chrysanthemum pattern which is entitled to the Japanese Imperial family, you can create your own Kamon freely.
Japanese Patterns Significance
Japan boasts rich varieits of beautiful patterns. Most of them originate from the middle of the Heian period (around the 9th – 10th century). So you can assume And Japanese don’t stop creating new ones today.
Many patterns, including Kamon are derived from plants. Wide variety of plants and flowers gives Japanese patterns diversity and shows how rich the Japanese land is.
Each pattern has its own meaning and history, so be sure to check Japanese Patterns: Traditional Motifs and Designs.