Do you know “Kamon (family crest)” or “mon (crest)”?
Kamon has long been used in Japan to show the lineage or the social status of a family.
Kamon has developed through hundreds of years, from various reasons and thoughts: it is said that now there are over 20,000 types of kamon designs!
【The history of kamon】
It is told that Kamon started to be used by court nobles in the Heian period as a sign to distinguish their own ox cart.
Kamon has been developed among court nobles in the Heian period; however, after the mid-Kamakura period, each samurai started to have their own Kamon. In the battlefield, they decorated everything from curtains, flags, banners to sword scabbards with their own Kamon, and used it to show off their military achievements or to distinguish friend from foe. And in the Edo period, Kamon started to be used by the general public as well.
It was prohibited for the general public to use a last name, but there was no restriction about using Kamon; for that reason, Kamon started to be used to distinguish family or house.
【Kamon and kimono】
Kamon is highly valued in traditional arts or long-established stores, but in modern times we almost never use Kamon in our daily lives. However, Kamon does share a strong connection with kimono.
Kamon is to be decorated on formal kimono worn on ceremonial occasions.
Kamon works as a sign; also, it shows the social status or class of a wearer or an occasion, by the number of Kamon, the way it is decorated and its shape.
For example, kuro tomesode (black formal kimono for married women) is decorated with five Kamon in total; one at the center in the back, the back of sleeves and each chest. This is called itsutsumon (the family crest on five places).
As for iro tomesode (colored formal kimono), three Kamon are decorated at the center in the back and the back of sleeves. For houmongi (visiting wear) with design on the skirt, one Kamon is to be decorated at the center in the back. The more the number of Kamon is, the more elegant and formal the kimono would be.
In a wedding ceremony, the most formal kimono are to be worn by the family of a bride or a gloom. It is considered to be well-mannered to avoid wearing tomesode with itsutsumon if you are a friend or an acquaintance of a bride or a gloom.
【Types of Kamon】
There are several different types of kamon; Shokubutsu mon (plant crests), Doubutsu mon (animal crests), Chodo mon (furniture crests such as arms, religious tools, life tools), Tennen mon (nature crests such as snow, cloud and moon), Onyo mon (pattern crests), Moji mon (character crests) and Kenzo mon (architecture crests).
There is the widest variety of plant crests among all crests, with a flower or a leaf as a motif. It shows that Japanese have been agricultural people, and have felt close to a forest or a tree. The most famous plant crest is “kiku mon (chrysanthemum crest)”.
Kiku mon, the family crest of the Imperial Family, is the symbol to show the family with the highest authority in Japan. Also, “aoi mon (hollyhock crest)”, of “Tokugawa” family who established the Edo shogunate, is one of the famous plant crests which stemmed from deities and Buddhas from shrines.
Although there are more animal crests with comparatively gentle animals as a motif, chou mon (butterfly crest) or takanoha mon (feather of a hawk crest) appeals bravery or valor.
Furniture crests are those with arms, religious tools or life tools as a motif. For example, ougi mon (fan crest) with hinomaru (the sun) is an auspicious crest.
In the beginning, the look or the beauty of Kamon was more valued. But as the types of Kamon increased, Kamon started to signify or wish for huge harvest, valor or luck were born.
In modern times, more and more people are interested in kamon regardless of whether they come from Japan or not. Kamon was created as a crest to show one’s family, house or last name, but its beautiful design is attracting attentions these days.
For example, there are a lot of items with kamon as a motif, such as accessories, clothes and stationaries and Kamon is becoming familiar. Kamon has long been regarded as something too formal or elegant; why not use kamon of your favorite design in daily life?