Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Japanese Kamon: A Family Crest

Japanese family crests, or Kamon, came into existence around the 12th century. Coincidentally, this was about the same time as the advent of European Coat of Arms. In Japanese, 'Ka' is one of several words connoting family and 'mon' is short for 'monshou' or crest. Japanese kamon have gone through significant evolution in terms of their use and social significance over the centuries. Initially, only members of the imperial family, lords, and samurai were permitted use of kamon. Between the 1300s and 1500s kamon began to take on a more military context and were used as battle insignia, again, much like the European Coat of Arms. However, by the time of the peaceful Edo period (1600-1868) use of kamon was widespread and evolved to civilian use.

Whereas European heraldry tended to be elaborate and utilize more violent and predatory animals such as lions and eagles, Japanese kamon were usually monochromatic and would commonly utilize less pretentious elements of nature such as flowers, plants, fish and insects. The choice of these kinds of symbols may perhaps suggest thought-provoking differences between Japanese and European cultures at the time.

Today there are more than 10,000 different kamon in use today in Japan based on about 350 basic patterns. Typically, use of a family kamon is passed from father to first-born son. Second and third-born sons would commonly modify the family emblem to one degree or another. Kamon were/are frequently displayed on the center of the back of a kimono garment, just below the nape of the neck. Kamon are also frequently displayed on lanterns outside of residences.

No comments: