Japanese Family Crest – it is only for the Royal Family and the nobles in the western world, the family crest. However, in Japan, every family has its own crest which is called Kamon in Japanese. Its design is unique, sophisticated, and each has its meaning. We will take a look at Kamon history, some famous samurai family crests and various scenes we see Kamon today.
Check out our interview with Mosho Uwaeshi, the Japanese family crest artisans in Tokyo.
Kamon the Avant-garde: Interview with Japanese Family Crest Artisans
Brief History of Japanese Family Crest: Kamon
It is considered that Kamon was seen since the Heian period (794-1185). The nobles put beautiful patterns on various goods and they enjoyed its beauty. They began to create their own family crest, Kamon gradually.
At that time, simple and natural patterns like flowers and plants were adopted. You were able to distinguish which stuff belong to whose family by its patterns of the crest.
In Europe, only the privileged classes were allowed to have the crest. On the other hand, every family has Kamon regardless of its position in Japan. And every Kamon has a meaning and there are 5,116 kinds of Kamon confirmed today.
Around this time, the family crest was only for the nobles just like the western society, but we entered the phase other class began to use family crest at the request of the period.
At the age of Civil Wars, samurai began using Kamon as well. It is a well-known fact that Genji and Heishi fought the furious battle at the end of the Heian period; they used white flags and red flags to distinguish own troops and the army.
Not just different colored flags but samurai started to have their own crest. In this era, in order to give rewards to samurai’s services in the battlefield accurately, there were people who were assigned to watch closely the battle and gave a report about who had done the most rewarding service. In this job, you have to distinguish each party precisely and Kamon came in very handy for this reason.
The Edo administration ordered common people not to use a family name. From that reason, Kamon was needed to distinguish between own family and others among people. So the numbers of Kamon increased exponentially.
In 1868, the class system was abolished by modernization, everybody was allowed to use a family name again. However, the culture of Kamon has stayed alive to the present.
The Top 10 Japanese Family Names and Each Representative Kamon
In this section, we will show you the representative Kamon for each top ten Japanese family names with a brief origin and distribution data inside Japan. The interesting thing about it is even with the same family name, they can have different Kamon depending on each lineage and region (birthplace).
Please keep in mind there are lots of variations and different Kamon attach to each family name more than we can show you here.
The Top Ten Japanese family name ranking can be varied depending on what data we use but mostly we can cover the prevalent Japanese family names with the data below.
So here we go.
- Sato (佐藤)
- Suzuki (鈴木)
- Takahashi (高橋)
- Tanaka (田中)
- Watanabe (渡辺)
- Ito (伊藤)
- Yamamoto (山本)
- Nakamura (中村)
- Kobayashi (小林)
- Saito (斎藤)
Origin: The family name “Sato” began with Fujiwara Saemon-no-Jo, a sixth generation-descendant of Fujiwara-no Hidesato in the middle era of the Heian period (794-1185).
Sato name distribution today: Eastern Japan, especially in Akita and Yamagata Prefecture.
Origin: It began with Hozumi clan in Kii-no Kuni, Kumano (Present Wakayama Prefecture).
Suzuki name distribution today: Eastern Japan and the top family name in the capital area.
Origin: The origin is in the name of a place, also seen in ancient clans which thought to be Kashiwade clan that prepared the meals for the court.
Takahashi name distribution today: All over Japan, especially in Gunma and Ehime Prefecture.
Origin: It came from the topography, literally ‘a center of the ricefield’ (田=rifefield, 中=the center).
Tanaka name distribution today: All over Japan, especially in Western Japan.
Origin: Watanabe-no Tsuna, a descendant of Emperor Saga, Settsu-no Kuni (Present Osaka Prefecture)
Watanabe name distribution today: All over Japan, especially in Eastern Japan.
Origin: Sato Motogake, a descendant of Fujiwara-no Hidesato began naming his family “Ito” in Ise-no Kuni (present Mie Prefecture).
Ito name distribution today: The capital area, Mie Prefecture, and Aichi Prefecture by far the greatest.
Origin: It came from the topography, ‘the bottom of the mountain’ (山=mountain, both 元 or 本 means the base).
Yamamoto name distribution today: All over Japan, especially in Western Japan.
Origin: It came from the topography, ‘the middle of the village’ (中=the middle, 村=village).
Nakamura name distribution today: All over Japan, especially in Western Japan.
Origin: It came from the topography, ‘small woods like copse’ (小=small, 林=woods).
Kobayashi name distribution today: Central Japan including the capital area, Gunma, Yamanashi, and especially in Nagano Prefecture.
Origin: Nobumochi, the head of Saigu (the ancient Imperial princess serving at Ise-Jingu Shrine) came from the line of Fujiwara clan, began using “Saito”.
Saito name distribution: The capital area and in Eastern Japan.
Oda Family Crest
Oda Nobunaga was a powerful daimyo (feudal lord) in the late 16th century who attempted to unify Japan during the late Civil War era. He is often regarded as ‘the first great unifier.’ Oda Family crest is ‘Mokko-mon’.
Actually, that is one of the main family crests Nobunaga had, he had 7 crests. It is not very clear the origin of ‘Mokko-mon’, there are several theories like it’s a cross-section of a melon or some kind of flower.
It also resembles the shape of a bird’s nest with eggs in it looking from above, therefore this Kamon is used in hope for family prosperity.
Other six crests have their own meaning, here we take a look into characteristic ones out of six.
It is originally the Kamon of Heike, but Nobunaga insisted he was from Heike, so he used it. Why he insisted it because it was believed the next conqueror would be someone from Heike, Nobunaga must have expressed his will through this Kamon.
Nobunaga used this Kamon on his flags. Eiraku Tsuho was a coin which was imported from Ming Dynasty, it’s been circulated until the early period of Edo. Nobunaga was very active working on economic policy.
Toyotomi Family Crest
Toyotomi Hideyoshi was a preeminent daimyo, warrior, general, samurai, and politician of the Civil War era who is regarded as Japan’s second ‘great unifier’. Toyotomi Family use ‘Kiri-mon’. Paulownia, which is “kiri” in Japanese, was believed to be the tree where a Chinese phoenix perches in ancient China myth. Around 800, the Imperial Family of Japan began using Kiri-mon on their clothing.
In today’s Japanese government use this Kiri-mon, also we can find it on the Japanese 500 yen coin. After the Meiji period, the government began using it as a Japanese government crest. From the Imperial Family to the Imperial Court, then the modern Japanese government, this Kamon has always been the symbol of high status.
Tokugawa Family Crest
Tokugawa Ieyasu was appointed to Shogun in A.D. 1603, and the Edo period began. Ieyasu was the third and the last ‘great unifier’. Tokugawa Family use ‘Aoi’ comes from Futaba-Aoi plant.
It is originally from Shin-mon (deity’s crest) of Kamo shrine in Kyoto. The Shinto priest in this shrine, Kamo and groups of samurai in Mikawa had the close relationship. Ieyasu prohibited others to use this crest to keep its authority.
Where You See Kamon Today
Perhaps you can see Kamon most at ceremonial occasions such as a wedding ceremony or a funeral. We can see Kamon on Japanese traditional kimono, Tomesode, which is a women’s formal dress and Montsuki Hakama which is men’s formal dress.
You have chances to see Kamon more often when you are in Kyoto. Stores like restaurants, confectionery shop which has been in business for many years, some of them are even more than 100 years have its own Kamon and usually put it on their curtain at the entrance which is called “Noren” and their wrapping paper.
We see Kamon on wrapping cloth, too. Wrapping cloth can be used in a versatile way, it can wrap from fruit to wine bottle in it and still looks stylish and easy to carry. “Tenugui” is the cheapest and handy washing cloth you can own with Kamon on it.
Also, you can see Kamon on a necktie, an umbrella, and roof-tile. It represents a certain family today as well. But people enjoy having their favorite samurai family crest on a key holder and as such. Sophisticated designs are inspirational and make everyday life feel special. A sure way to see a lot of varieties of Kamon at one time, you go to a cemetery and you’ll find them on the tombstones.
The shrines and the temples have its crest, too. Shrine’s crest is called ‘Shin-mon’ as we have seen with Kamo Shrine, the temple’s called ‘Jin-mon’. Often times Shin-mon’s and Jin-mon’s patterns derived from its deity’s origin and tools used in rituals.
As you can see above, you walk near some shrine and if they throw a party, you have a chance to see such paper lanterns with Kamon on it. It would be interesting to find various patterns of Kamon on the street and look up the meaning behind it.
Japanese Family Crest Consulting Service
Given popular demand of searching family crest and roots, we have launched the Japanese Family Crest Consulting Service.
For those of you who have interests in finding one’s Kamon and family roots, please take a look at Japanese Family Crest Consulting Service. (We no longer answer questions in the comment section.)
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