Family crests, called kamon, are emblems possessed by each family in Japan in the same manner as surnames. There are supposed to be about ten thousand kamon in the country. On formal kimono these appear as small crests on the back and shoulders to designate the bearer’s lineage. There are many kamon of superior design and simple, elegant beauty. A famous story says that the Louis Vuitton logo was influenced by the design of Japanese kamon.
【Frequently Represented Crests and Commentary】
The paulownia is a spiritual tree that acts as a charm against negative influence.It is also thought that this tree was the perch of the phoenix in mythology. As the phoenix was said to alight at the place of a great monarch, the paulownia is also used by the Imperial Family along with the chrysanthemum.
This plant represents the three important requisites of balanced character, great intellect, and perpetuation of one’s descendants. Traditionally, the leaves were used to polish mirrors, and so it has also come to symbolize self-reflection and discipline.
In the old days people used to make an offering of one flower to the Buddha or to one of the deities for good fortune. The symbolism of this flower carries a hint of destiny.
The tenacity of these plants to bud in the cold before the arrival of spring, combined with the beauty and elegant aroma of their flowers has made them a favorite motif symbolizing fortune and vitality since days of old.The ume is most closely associated with the great man of letters Sugawarano Michizane because of his love of this plant. The representation of ume in family crests has since spread from his shrine to the general population.
Ivy is a symbol of fecundity for its tenacious vitality and its circulation along the earth.
This design is supposedly based on the appearance of a bird’s nest as seen from above. It symbolizes fertility and is one of many auspicious symbols. In the past it was used by one of the great samurai families, so there is a good chance that the bearer of this crest today is descended from samurai.
The grace and elegance of this motif makes it very popular among women.
TAKANOHA（Feather of hawk）
The hawk was a very popular motif among the warrior classes in days of old. Among a number of variations on this theme, the crisscrossed feathers of the design seen here is particularly frequent.
The beauty of this flower calls to mind the sun. With its regal fragrance, it is used as a sort of talisman to drive away negative energy. Use of the chrysanthemum in kamon is reserved for the Imperial Family, so crests used by commoners incorporating chrysanthemum themes must be arranged so as to have a different appearance. Shown here is a kikusui pattern, a crest representing the beauty of a chrysanthemum floating in water.
Ginger can be used as medicine, so the bearing of crests with this theme as a way of calling on divine protection is spread quite widely among the general population.
【Unusual Motif Crests】
Aside from the popular themes, there are also unique crests of extremely complex design; those incorporating centipedes, crabs, and the like; and those using a single Chinese character. The rarity of families using these crests makes it easier for their bearers to trace their lineages.
【Variations on Kamon Themes】
Many crests do not retain a single motif throughout their history but undergo gradual changes. Some crests incorporate further motifs or blend with different ones so that their form is slightly altered. In many cases fairly close relatives may have somewhat different family crests. Generally speaking, the simpler the crest, the deeper the lineage of the family.
Kamon are heirlooms handed down within Japanese families over the course of centuries, but there is no particular law restricting their alteration, and today families are free to change them as they wish. In addition, a number of crests may be used within a single lineage, and it is possible to develop a new crest for one’s own family. No application or legal registration is required. So if you live in Japan, or plan to live here in the future, why not try creating your own kamon? You can enjoy choosing aspects of crests you like from the many already in existence.