Last update:
December 16th
2002

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The art of Family Crests in Japan


Mon (or kamon) is the Japanese word for "family crest". Its use originated in 11th century when Court nobles (kuge) and warriors (buke) used emblems as symbols of their families.

Military families of the feudal age marked with their crests not only banners, courtains, and clothing, but also furnishing and household belongings.

In the Meiji period (1868-1912), many of the common people adopted family crests bearing some connections with their newly assumed family names. The design were drawn from a variety of objects - the sun, the moon, stars, plants, animals, geometrical shapes and ideograms.

montsuki

Clothing marked with the family crest is called montsuki, wich literally meeans "an object with a crest". A crested haori and hakama was pur over a crested kimono as a formal dress. The crest of an open chrysantemum (kiku-no-gomon) is the crest of the Imperial family, and that of hollyhock leaves (aoi-no-mon) represent the Tokugawa Shogunate family.

Generally, a mon for a kimono (montsuki) is painted with black China ink on white silk. But you can also see colored mon, in case they are applied on the kimono of an actor.

On the most formal kimono five montsuki are applied, the three you se in the illustration here above, and two on the chest, left and right. On the semi-formal kimono, only three are applied - on the sleeves and on the back (this last being split in two where the sewing is), and the informal kimono has only one mon in the back. A kimono for everyday (a plain one) desen't show any montsuki.

The montsuki for women's kimono is smaller in size than that for men's kimonos, as you can notice in the following pages of this collection.

chochinnorenNowaday you can see mon on a noren (entrance courtain) or on a chochin (paper lantern), or also as symbol of temples and shrines, towns, cities and villages.

The collection of crests we are showing you in the next pages, is scanned from a set of original montsuki that in 1973 my Japanese lover of that period, Nobuyuki, a young professional painter of crests, painted expressly for me.

Sources:

  • A Look Into Japan, JTB, Tokyo, 1993
  • Honna, Nobuyuki & Bates, Hohher, En English Japanese Dictionary of Japanese Culture, Yuhikaku, Chiba, 1986
  • Mikawa Yasui, Nihon nasho mon (Crests of people and places of Japan), Nakamizuya, Nihonbashi, Meiji 40 nen (1904)

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