Contrasting Kamon: Bold symbols of family heritage have roots that run deep

Written By: Remy Sherman

Japan has been long admired for its sense of style and cultural identity and there is perhaps no greater symbol of this than the Kamon or Japanese family crest. Often round and symmetrical in shape, Kamon were traditionally found on clothing or armor as well as at the entrance or gate of a feudal estate and occasionally hand painted on the surface of lanterns hung during Obon, a summer festival honoring passed ancestors.

A Clear and Bold Style

Their clear, bold style has been emulated around the world on logos and in advertising as well as in some unfortunately underplanned tattoo designs.The oldest recognized family crest in Japanese history dates back to the 12th century when Kuge, nobles who served the Emperor of Japan, started to use symbolized designs of flora, animals and other designs on their belongings such as carts, chests, furniture, and clothing.  In those days, only a limited number of people of the upper class were allowed to use such markings.

Symbols Drawn From Nature

Japanese famliy crests can be roughly broken down into 3 categories, each depicting either flowers, animals, or natural phenomena. Some of the most famous are the Chrysanthemum crest of the Imperial family or the Maruni Mitsu Aoi featuring a geranium motif signifying the Clan of Tokugawa, the last great Shogunate of Japan.

Tapping Ancient Roots

While repeating elements of varying numbers are common, a preponderance of Kamon feature manifestations of three. This may trace its roots to the ancient Indian symbol of Chintamani which signifies happiness and may also refer to the trinity of mind/body/soul which is found in belief systems around the globe.

The Mark of a Warrior

The clear, crisp design syle of most Kamon is derived from when these symbols were used to identify warriors on the battlefield, necessitating a bold demarcation of friend or foe, even from a distance. Some parallels may be drawn to European family crests, however Kamon are typically much less elaborate, lacking such formalized structure as the shield, wreath, motto, mantle, and helmet found on so many Western crests.

Elegance From All Angles

While several Kamon display bilateral symmetry, quite often a radial symmetry pattern may be observed causing many to draw similarities to mandalas used in Buddhist and some animist religions, although Kamon do not themselves have an intrinsic spiritual meaning.

Geometric Patterning

Some Kamon eschew representational motifs entirely and are composed of geometric symbols. Others include interlocking diamond or triangular shapes reminiscent of Celtic knotwork designs.

A Wealth of Diversity

Recognized Family Crests in Japan are reported to number greater than 10,000, however several are simply redesigned variations created for the purpose of expressing geneological heritage. When a second or third-born son marries and establishes his own family, he often chooses to modify his family crest in order to indicate a differentiation in the family line.  The first son generally inherits the original crest used by his father, while younger siblings might modify the original crest by placing a ring or square around the outside or adding another new element.

A Trancendence of Time

Kamon may be found on many traditional items in Japan such as formal kimonos and placards outside of residences,  however these days they are also commonly seen on T-shirts, keychains, business cards, and accessories, as well as, of course the shoulders or lower backs those who might have had one just one too many.

Famous Family Crests

Written By: Ria Sajit

For every powerful and influential family, there is usually a family crest or coat of arms to symbolise their triumphs and familial bonding. Here is a look at some of the family crests of history’s most powerful and influential families.

House of Plantagenet

The House of Plantagenet ruled England for over three centuries, a dynasty supposedly established in the early 10th century by Fulk I of Anjou. The family gave birth to fourteen of England’s kings; Henry II, Richard I, King John, Henry III, Edward I, Edward II, Edward III, Richard II, Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III.

The House of Plantagenet family crest consists of three lions against a red background, symbolizing the Norman Dynasty. It specifically belonged to Geoffrey Plantagenet – Count of Ajou. Originally the coat of arms consisted of three lions at first during Henry II’s reign but was later changed to three lions for his successors.

House of Medici

The Italian House of Medici, unlike the Plantagenets, were originally powerful bankers in Italy. Their dynasty was political; attaining their wealth in the 13th century in Florence. Due to the family’s support of the arts, they helped lay the foundations of the Renaissance period in the 15th century.

The Medici family crest is made up of six balls; five red and one blue, on a gold shield. It is debated amongst historians exactly what significance the balls have. Some say it relates to Medici name itself; the balls are medicinal pills, as the Medici family dates back to being doctors and apothecaries in Tuscany. A creative theory about the crest illustrates that the balls are in fact dents in the shield inflicted by a vicious giant named Mugello that was defeated by Charlemagne’s knight, Averardo.

House of Rothschild

The famous House of Rothschild is known to be one of the most powerful families in the world, similarly to the Medici family, finding their riches in banking. Rothschilds attained international power through the hands of Mayer Rothschild who, with his financial knowledge and intuition, developed a financial house and stationed each of his five sons in Europe’s financial hotspots; thus creating the Rothschild dynasties. Their power and wealth was so extreme, they have elevated into Austrian and British nobility. To this day, the Rothschild family still goes hand-in-hand with wealth and power, however they are less known today than they were in the 19th century. They are in a variety of industries including mining, charities, winemaking, finance, energy and mixed farming.

The Rothschild family crest consists of a clenched fist clutching onto five arrows. These arrows symbolize the five dynasties established by Mayer Rothschild’s five sons. Their family motto that appears on the shield in Latin, “Concordia, Integritas, Industria” which translates to, “Unity, Integrity, Industry”. Furthermore, the arrows are also in reference to Psalm 127, “Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth.”

The study of family crests helps historians and genaeologists alike investigate symbolism in these insignias and, hopefully, aids in drawing parallels to events that occured hundreds of years ago.

British Heraldry’s Stewards

Written By: CL RobinsonBritish Heraldry Beginnings British Heraldry begins with the Norman Conquest in 1066 and the Arms of the House of Normandy. The rise of the British Monarchy fully begins with the House of Plantagenet, their coat of arms, and … [Continue reading]

Coat of Arms and Ancestry Two Different Entities that Rely on One Another?

Written By: Jennifer L GordonAncestry and Coat of Arms are not the same, but one relies on the other to exist and stay alive in modern times. A basic search online today can give a person a way to begin searching their family history, such as … [Continue reading]

The Heraldry Society of Scotland

Written By: CL RobinsonHeraldry Society Beginnings "The Heraldry Society of Scotland was founded in 1977." It is an organization dedicated to "promoting the study of Heraldry"  in Scotland. Some of the founding members include: Elizabeth Ann … [Continue reading]