Mon (紋), also known as monshō (紋章)1 were in essence family crests of Japanese families.
Many of the first depictions were merely elaborate patterns dating back to the Nara and Heian Periods, these bing called moyō, or yūsoku mon’yō. Later, these turned into family crests (kamon 家紋) during the wars of the 12th century,1 as it allowed Samurai and others to easily recognise the various houses upon the battlefield.2
Soon after all of the Clan adopted the use of Mon.2
From the 14th to 16th centuries they came to symbolise political and social change, the ‘great houses’ frequently using 10 or more different crests. By the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate the ruling elite becomes rigidly fixed, and the peace of this time allowed for the elaboration and popularization of these crests. It became common at this time to place them within a circle and show them in 3-5 places on garments.1
During the Edo Period, the daimyō were allowed to have two mon, with Samurai only allowed to bear one. Commoners at this time could not have any. However, this changes after 1868 and all people could use mon.2 With it become widespread to all people vendors, courtesans and even Kabuki actors adopted the use of these crests.1
Modern day ceremonial clothes for familes will have their mon displayed upon the lapels, middle of the back and upon the sleeves.2
Literature on Mon
The first practical text on these crests can be found dating to the Muromachi Shogunate and contains 255 crests within its pages. The rigidity of the ruling elite by the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate saw the publication of a book of heraldry (bukan) We also have a later Edo Period publication called the monchō or mokan which catalogued thousands of variations of basic mon designs.1
|Chrysanthemum Throne||Fujiwara Clan|
|Takeda Clan||Sugawara Clan|
|Nagasaki Prefecture||Nara Prefecture||Toyama Prefecture|
1. Kodansha. (1993) ”Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia”. Tokyo: Kodansha Ltd.
2. Louis Frederic, translated by Kathe Roth (2002) “Japan Encyclopedia”. London: Harvard University Press.
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