Mon or crests / emblems or Japanese heraldics

This page was originally written as a resource for the site Immortal Geisha and its forum members of which not so many speak Japanese.

To see Japanese charachters / fonts, you need to download support for Japanese.

Ka stands for "house" as in "family" and mon means crest or emblem. The closest equivalent of a mon in the West is a coat of arms (=monshoo 紋章). The mon tradition has continued from the Heian period to modern days. New mon are even designed today. Most crest are patrilinear, but in the Kansai region there are also onnamon, matrilinear crests. In addition to family crests, often heralded by feudal lords (actually, a basis of categorization when searching databases), there are crests for common use, like the kiri (paulownia) leaf crest. For example my iromuji kimono has a kiri leaf crest in the back. Some of the old family crests have become public property, like the Maeda crest seems to decorate almost anything in Kanazawa city.

Kimono entusiasts encounter mon on e.g. kimono, haori, and obi. Mon are, however, used to decorate all kinds of objects. "Montsuki" 紋付 is a word describing an object decorated with a crest. Thus a montsuki kimono is a kimono with a crest / crests. Before the Meiji period, kamon were mostly used in men’s kimono, and it became fashionalble to have mon on women’s kimono only lately. This might have something to do with the fact that men only have rather formal kimonos, women have a wide range even today. On a kimono, depending to formality, there can be 1, 3, or 5 crests. The number of crests does not, however, determine the all−over formality of a certain kimono, since the material, other designs and motifs of the kimono etc. all contribute to the formality level. A crest is meant to dress up a kimono, just as an obi might do, too. A mon can be dyed or embroidered on komon, iromuji, moofuku, summer moofuku, kurotomesode, and irotomesode, as well as on haori etc.

A mon of a man is 3 cm or 2,7 (3,8) cm in diameter, and that of a woman is 2 cm (1,9). There are also other kind of mon, like 加賀紋, 祝紋, 月紋, and 花紋. Kaga kamon etc. are also embroidered around an existing dyed family crest.

On a kimono the top edge of the crest is usually around

  • 1寸5分( 5,7 cm) below the collar seam along the middle seam in the back
  • 2寸(7,5 cm)below the highest part of the shoulder in back of the sleeve, and
  • 4寸 (15,2 cm)or also 4寸5分( 17 cm)below the highest part of the shoulder on the front panels

Mon come in three versions:

  • 日向蔦 hinata tsuta (sunny) is the most formal version of a mon.
  • 蔭蔦 (shady) kage tsuta is more informal than hinata. It doesn’t stand out much.
  • 中蔭ノ蔦 (half shady) chuu kage tsuta is also more informal than hinata and does not stand out.

The shape of a mon can vary a lot, but there can be two versions of the same mon: motif in a circle 丸付き, and motife without surrounding circle 丸無し紋.

There are sites to aid in finding out what a crest depicts, and what kind of crest a family has.

I know how the name of the family and I want to know what their mon looks like.

  1. I need to find out how to spell the name in Japanese both in kanji and the Japanese alphabet. E.g. Maeda, when typed into a translation page, will yield 前田 まえだ. If there are many options, I will need to choose the right one. Maybe a search engine could help.
  2. Once I know how to spell the name, I surf to a site like for example I look at the hiragana spelling of the name, choose the correct initial, and start browsing. Usually the Japanese alphabetical browsing is as follows:
    • a  あ or (a, i, u, e, o),
    • ka  か or (ka, ki, ku, ke, ko),
    • sa  さ or サ (sa, shi, su, se, so),
    • ta  た or (ta, chi, tsu, te, to),
    • na  な or (na, ni, nu, ne, no),
    • ha  は or (ha, hi, hu, he, ho),
    • ma  ま or (ma, mi, mu, me, mo),
    • ya  や or (ya, yu, yo),
    • ra  ら or (ra, ri, ru, re, so),
    • wa  わ or

[Sivun alkuun]

On Taimohude's page, type in the name in the search field.

Here is a site with a kamon in both hiragana and kanji.  

Example:
I know the motif of a mon I want to find is plum flower. In Japanese this is ume (). I surf to Otonomiya and either 1) scroll down to find ume in the list or 2) go to the plants section (in the motif classification menu horisontally at the top) and click on ume in the left pane. In either case I finally arrive to the plum page: http://www.otomiya.com/kamon/plant/ume.htm. I get information on the history of the plum design, details about one prestigeous family that has a plum mon (Maeda) and some facts about plum as a meaningful symbol.

Also okiya have mon. Here is a site with uchiwa fans with okiya mon. We see mon on the obi of maiko, decorating the lanterns aorund the hanamachi, even on plates, on napkins and fans etc. Some examples:
先斗町 ぽんとちょう pontocho:

chidori 千鳥

and 宮川町 みやがわちょう miyagawacho:


上七軒 かみしちけん kamishichiken:


The capture says this is 岡とめ ’s 屋形 yakata:

To find matching hiragana and kanji for some of the kamon, here is a site: http://nihonkamonken.hp.infoseek.co.jp/myojikagawaka.htm You can also search according to location: Noihon Kamon

To find a mon according to its description (e.g. leaf of hemp): Go to Harimaya.

  1. To find e.g. Eagles feathers (taka noha), go to Harimaya's index.
  2. We know that the mon depicts two eagle feathers in a circle, which means that in Japanese it will become "taka no ha" たか の は and (鷹の羽
  3. Click ta in the left pane to open index for (ta).
  4. Then click on 鷹の羽 to open this page.

At the index of Harimaya (move mouse over sub headers / links to see romanization at the bottom of your screen)

  • 伝統の十大家紋 dentooteki no 10 taike mon − 10 traditional / old distinguished families
  • 植物紋 jukubutsumon − plants
  • 動物紋 doobutsu mon − animals
  • 自然現象紋 shizengenshoo − natural penomena
  • 建築 / 器物; kenchiku / kibutsu mon − architechture and receptacles
  • 紋様紋 monyoo mon − (abstract) designs; pattern

There are sites like this where one can look up a wordier depiction of a mon.
  1. Surf to Crest Japan
  2. The list says: flowers, plants, animals, nature, abstract patterns, military, everyday objects.
  3. Click on what you think the mon depicts and browse.

More kamon sites:

Some search words:

  • 象徴 shoochoo = symbol; to symbolize = 象徴する
  • 装飾 sooshoku = ornament
  • 意匠 ishoo (n) = design
  • モチーフ  mochiifu = motif
  • シンボル shimboru = symbol
  • 標識 hyooshiki (n) = sign, mark, flag
  • 吉祥 kichijoo (n) = lucky omen, happy, auspicious
  • 記号 kigoo = symbol, code, sign

Sometimes kanji are used as crests in addition to kanji being used as other decorations, such as vowen into the fabric etc. The most used kanji:

  • kichi = good fortune, good luck
  • yorokobu = rejoice, take pleasure in
  • fuku = good fortune
  • 寿 kotobuki = congratulations! long life!
  • yume = dream
  • manji = gammadion, fylfot, swastika (used in Buddhism and also Shinto as a symbol for dharmachakra, dharma wheel, and is thus an auspicious symbol)

And just as a thanks for reading this far, wallpapers for your desktop, icons etc. in kamon style.

[Sivun alkuun]