Transformations of Mon: Japanese Family Crests

October 20, 2009 Updated: October 20, 2009

ROYAL EMBLEM: The Japanese Imperial crest based on the chrysanthemum is seen behind a cherry blossom at the annual spring festival held at the Yasukuni Shrine on in Tokyo, Japan. (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
ROYAL EMBLEM: The Japanese Imperial crest based on the chrysanthemum is seen behind a cherry blossom at the annual spring festival held at the Yasukuni Shrine on in Tokyo, Japan. (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)
Mon, or Kamon, which literally means "family crest," are logos that the Japanese have used to display one’s family line and family status. There are more than 5,116 Mon, categorized into 241 types.

Unlike Western family emblems with lions, dragons, eagles, and other creatures that symbolize power, Mon tend to use plants, birds, the moon, and the like. They feature soft, feminine designs and also tend to be used loosely among common people.

Origin and History

As a simple symbol representing a family, Mon have decorated caves, clothes and tools. However, it is widely believed that the origin of proper Kamon goes back to late Heian period (794–1185 AD). (Heian literally means "peace and safety.") Some servants of the aristocrats started to put their masters’ family crests on the body of their ox-carts to distinguish themselves from other families’ servants.

After the relatively peaceful Heian period, provincial warriors who used to work under aristocrats to collect taxes from farmers became embroiled in politics in the capital Kyoto. Their search for their own political power began the medieval age of the warrior. The establishment of the warriors' own government in Kamakura marks the beginning of Kamakura period (1185–1336 AD). Then, Mon became essential symbols on armor and flags for distinguishing between enemies.

During the transition period of Muromachi (1336–1573 AD) between the warrior period and the long lasting Shogun era, a ceremonial Reifuku became popular where the appearance of a small family crest on the back of a coat, just under the neck, became quite important.

Once Japan was united under Tokugawa Shogun and enjoyed over 200 years of the Edo period (1603–1867 AD) without internal wars and external interferences, actors and prostitutes, who were regarded as "trendy" people at that time, started to use fancy Mon on their Kimono; and the concept then spread widely to the general public. There was no connotation of feudalism here, and designers specializing in Mon became very popular, leading to an emblem culture second to none in the world.

Modern Usage

In the modern Japan, you will encounter Kamon at funerals and weddings. However, the modern Japanese do not limit Mon as a symbol of family heritage, but also have fun using them to create a personal identity. They may use them to decorate their business cards for their own identity, or as stickers with Edo-period brush style font. Just like people enjoy putting them on the back of Kimono, young people are wearing T-shirts with Mon. Epoch Times Photo

Examples of Mon

(Clockwise from top left):

Chrysanthemum

The ninth month represents chrysanthemum month in the old calender and on Sept. 9, Japanese celebrate the chrysanthemum festival, wishing for happiness. It is said that the Imperial Family adopted this Mon as the petals of chrysanthemum look like beams of the sun. The Imperial Mon has 16 petals with double petals, while the Mon used for Japanese passports and badges worn by members of Parliament are single petals.

Harvested Rice Plants

In an ancient scroll, there is a record of a shrine that officially conferred the family name of Hozumi, which means a pile of harvested rice, when a family offered harvested rice plants.

Cherry Blossom

There are over 100 types, a fact that indicates the popularity of the flowers among Japanese people.

Moon and Stars

The symbol illustrates a belief in the universe and offering prayer to the heavenly gods.