Kamon refers to a coat of arms used, crest or emblem in Japan to indicate someone’s origins; that is, the lineage of a family, ancestry and status since ancient times. It is also referred to simply as mondokoro [紋 所], monshou [紋章] or mon [紋].
There are more than 20,000 individual kamons in Japan. The coat of arms is often called Family Crest. Kamon is a unique culture and tradition that you can find only in Japan.
Meaning of Kamon – What does Kamon mean?
The word Kamon [家 紋] means “house” [家] and “emblem” [紋]. Kamon are Japanese heraldic symbols or emblems of clans (family). The mon has a function similar to the coats of European heraldry.
It is estimated that there are more than two thousand family emblems derived from the standard Kamon. Kamon patterns are generally circular geometric shapes. They can also have natural elements such as animals, plants, flowers, trees, objects and others.
Heavenly elements like the moon and stars or religious like the Buddhist swastika are also inspirations for the emblems. Through kamon it was possible to distinguish the origin, history and social status of a Japanese family.
Today the term “Kamon” is also used to indicate a person’s origins. From the family line, the blood line, the ancestry and the status of ancient times.
Origin and history of Kamon in Japan
The emblems are believed to have appeared in the Asuka Period under foreign influence. In the Heian Period the nobility began to put their own coat of arms on their ox carts and walked through the streets, showing their coat of arms. Subsequently, it became popular with the nobles and several coats of arms were created.
The coats of arms of the samurai warriors were created later than those of the nobility in the late Heian period, when the conflict between the Heiji clan and the Genji clan became more violent. Coats of arms were soon used to identify enemies and allies.
The emblems were displayed on flags called sashimono [指物] that were carried on the soldiers’ backs. On the horses of some cavalrymen they used a flag known as umajirushi [馬印].
Over the ages, kamon stood out even more, being displayed even in traditional clothing. Mon were normally attached to the back and front of the shoulders and below the glue to the back.
The use of Kamon among the samurai and the nobility
Kamon is an example of Japan’s own culture, which has been used to this day. A kamon was created to represent the identity of a family, clearly revealing its owner’s family name.
Later, the samurai and the nobility made use of these crests. Each group consists of a representative coat of arms and its variations. Eventually, they spread and were used in tombs, furniture and ships.
It was natural that coats of arms should be placed on weapons such as katana and kacchu. However, although there were no limitations, it was not uncommon for the unrestricted use of coats of arms from other families to cause friction.
Especially when wearing the coat of arms of a higher class, as a daimyo or shogun created more friction. Therefore, there was an undeclared rule to avoid using the coat of arms that was already worn by the high-class clan or the family as much as possible.
Curiosities about the Kamon in Japan
Even today, Kamon is used in many places in Japanese society. The Mitsubishi and Yamaha logos originate from a Kamon, just as many other food and other product companies have their logos based on a kamon.
There are exclusive kamon for certain people, and a single kamon can be used by different families with the same last name. Today, these coats of arms can be found even on flags of Japanese cities and provinces.
Perhaps this is a key factor in the Japanese flag being a simple red circle.
Where to buy Items with Kamon?
Do you want to buy t-shirts, clothes, bags, backpacks and other objects with kamon? Below I recommend some sites with which I work making prints: