Toward the end of the Heian Era (749 – 1185) Japan’s nobility and samurai warriors created a unique emblem used primarily to identify friend from foe when samurai warriors engaged in hand-to-hand combat much, as flags or banners were used in western countries.
These emblems were called kamon and were quite simple in their design so that they were quickly recognizable. However, when the country moved into a more peaceful and tranquil time the samurai continued to wear their kamon primarily to identify themselves as members of the samurai class and the kamon became something of a symbol of authority. Japan was a hierarchical society of nobility, samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants and kamon became a way of determining the social status of someone’s family.
By the middle of the Edo Era (1600 – 1867) they were being used by people at every level of society and were soon described as family crests. Today every family in Japan, regardless of their social status, has their family crest or kamon and one that is unique, sophisticated and has its meaning. I’ve seen different numbers as to how many unique designs are registered, but the number I’ve seen most often is 5116.
On occasions when the use of a kamon is required one can usually go the temple or shrine registries of their ancestral hometown to get a copy. Many of the designs are circular, either a unique design within a circle or the circle may be part of the design. The most recognized kamon is the Imperial Kamon, a stylized chrysanthemum pattern. It can be seen at some temples and shrines across Japan which receive financial support from the imperial family as well as on Japanese passports and on the back side of the 500 yen coin.
My wife Kayo’s family name was Masuda and the Masuda Kamon is in the registry of a small temple near her parent’s home.
Larry Jones is a member of the Stillwater Sister Cities Council.