Mon and Kamon – Japanese Crests – Japanese Kimonos

wafuku – noun: traditional Japanese clothing

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Japanese Mon & Kamon

Mon means crest and kamon means family crest. The origin of the Japanese family mon goes back to the eleventh century. Each of the high ranking officers of the day began using a specific textile designs on their most formal wear, to be worn at the Imperial Court by all courtiers. Then they started having them on their carriages as well. The designs steadily became more refined and elegant. These emblems later became the formal mon (crests) we know now and were always put on formal garments.

When the Heian period ended and the samurai warrior class took over the government, at the end of the twelfth century, the warriors used their own emblems on their banners, flags, weapons and hanging screens to identify their camps and headquarters in the time of war. The warriors, who recognized that they were less cultured than the nobles, copied with admiration what the courtiers did

When the roll of fabric is dyed for a kimono that will have mon on it, discs of fabric are masked with rice paste, to be left undyed and white, the mon design (chosen by the person having the kimono made) is then stencilled onto the white disc. There is always a seam at the centre back of the kimono, so the roll of kimono fabric has half circles left in the correct place at the edges so that, when sewn together, it forms a disc for the mon at the centre back. Kimono fabric is produced in rolls (bolts) and every roll for a man’s kimono is exactly the same size, every roll of women’s kimono silk is the same size (and longer than for a man’s one), every roll of haori silk is the same size etc., so any pattern or mon disc on the garment is printed or masked out on the roll at exactly the right place for when it is cut out. This is why these garments vary very little in size; any slight variation in size is due only to the amount of seam allowance when sewn. They have no darts or other shaping of any kind, everything is rectangular.

A mon makes a garment a formal one, suitable for formal occasions. It can have one, three or five mon; the more mon it has, the more formal the occasion it is deemed suitable for. Garments with mon are divded into three types: itsutsu mon (5 mon), mitsu mon (3 mon) and hitotsu mon (1 mon).

There are different styles of mon too. In the picture below, showing three variations of icho (ginko) mon, you can see three versions of a the mon: hinata – full sun (left), kage – shadow (middle), and nakakage – mid shadow (right). The more subtle versions are for slightly less formal occasions. There are also embroidered mon, called nui mon.

A family may choose a mon that is associated with their family (a family mon is called a kamon) or just opt for one they like instead. They are seen on all sorts of items in Japan: clothing, signs, boxes, ceramics, banners etc.

Women are not obliged to adopt their husbands’ family mon, they may wear their maiden mons, called onna mon. Below you can see mon on two silk, women’s tomesode kimonos; one kimono with an oil painting of mountains and one with an embroidered winter scene.

There are hundreds symbols used in mon and many variations of each. Some popular emblems are sasa (bamboo) leaves, yotsume (4 eyes, a mon of four diamond shapes), tsuta (ivy), kiri (paulownia), tachibana (citrus/mandarin), ageha (butterfly), ume (plum blossom), katabami (wood sorrel/oxalis/clover), mokku (gourd), papaya slice, hanabishi (diamond flower), sensu (folding fans), tsuru (cranes), fuji (wisteria) and myouga (Japanese ginger).

Over the centuries many new mon emblems have been developed and many variations designed of old ones

The most frequently seen (by me, at least, and I have seen thousands of kimonos) are ivy, plum blossom, ginger, butterfly and, especially, paulownia. You can see a paulownia mon on pink in a photo above and, below, some information about paulownia in Japanese mythology.

The mon in the picture below is an interesting one; it is a Japanese mafia mon, worn at induction ceremonies.

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Kiri (paulownia): A deciduous tree, native to eastern Asia. In Japanese myths it is said to have the only branches phoenix will land on. It is very popular in traditional Japanese art, particularly textile art where it is often seen on beautiful women’s kimonos and a very popular mon (crest) motif. It is also the flower symbol of is the Office of the Prime Minister of Japan. Paulownia is also known as foxglove tree and princess tree.

An exquisite, antique, itsutsu mon tomesode kimono, with hand applied textile art showing treasure ship festival floats and busy people

 


A hitotsu mon
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31 comments

  1. I am looking for a warrior kimono robe, with suitable hanger for a wall display, as decoration. Do you have such an item?

    1. I am not sure what you mean by warrior kimono. You may mean a black, silk montsuki kimono (montsuki have 1, 3 or 5 mon on them), which were also worn by samurai.
      I do have some montsuki kimonos on my site at http://www.wafuku.co.uk in the Men’s/Kimonos section.

      I also have extendable kimono hangers available in the Misc Items section of the site. To display it, you can, however, also use a length of simple bamboo or thick cane, from a garden centre, long enough to go from sleeve end to sleeve end, with just a string loop at the centre to hang it, then pull out the fronts and clip them to the sleeves or pin them to the wall.

      Ceri @wafuku

  2. I would like to know how to find the meaning of the Meiyu (4 eyes) mon and so far I’ve had no luck. This is in my family (from my gr. grandfather’s side, passed through his father) as well as the Ageha-cho mon (from my gr. grandmother’s side, passed through her mother). When I saw the Meiyu mon on this site I hoped you’d be able to give me an answer, or at least point me in the right direction to finding it!
    Thanks!

    1. Hi.
      The 4 eye mon is one that proves problematical. It would appear its meaning has been lost over time. I have found no answer to its meaning when researching mon, though I have searched a good deal. It is also known as Yotsume (四つ目)and was the mon of the Shinozuka (with a ring round the 4 eyes), Ichikawa and Sakō clans.
      My presumtion is that its meaning is about vigilance and being observant but that is a guess.
      There are dozens of variations of this mon, sometimes laid out in a diamond shape, sometimes square or overlapping diamonds, in a kaleidoscopic effect etc. and there are 3 eye versions too.

      Sorry I can’t be more helpful but the reason you have found it so hard to get information on it is that there seems to be none available. It is a question many with an interest in mon have asked, all having failed to find an answer.

      Ceri

  3. I have an old Kimono….black crepe with surihaku running around the hem and up the the left panel. There are 5 crests that seem a chrysanthemum shape.

    I have a blog: http://ladynyo.wordpress.com where I have written about this kimono, but I would like to know if this chrysanthemum is common. I would think so.

    Thank you!

    Lady Nyo

    1. Hi.
      I checked your blog but could not find a picture of the kimono you mentioned with the chrysanthemum (kiku) mon.
      The 16 petal chrysanthemum mon was the Imperial seal of Japan and only used by the emperor, at one time, at least. It has 16 petals in front and the tips of a back row of petals showing between them at the ends. Other members of the imperial family used chrysanthemums with different numbers of petals. I don’t think that such restrictions still apply but I really don’t know. I have seen that mon on items like boxes etc. that are not imperial family items, although it is still the National emblem of Japan.
      I have well over 2000 kimonos and haori (I didn’t stop buying when I hit that number, I just stopped counting), many of which have mon and a wide variety of mon but only two or so have the chysanthemum one and I do not know their provenance. There are dozens of variations of chrysanthemum mon designs but it is certainly not one of the more commonly found ones, as far as I can tell from my years of kimono buying. I’m afraid I’m no expert on mon, though.
      Perhaps it is possible that your kimono was owned by a member of the imperial family, you never know.
      Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

  4. Oh~! Thank you! You have been very helpful.

    I will photograph my black crepe kimono (tomesode) and put it up on my blog. Thank you for looking at my blog.

    I am working on “The Kimono” this January (novel) and will post a pix of the kimono that has inspired me to write this book.

    As to the crest, it might be ‘ivy’, but I have to look closer.

    What a wonderful and enlightening site you have here!

    Thank you!

    Lady Nyo

  5. I LOVE your site! It is a world of information for me, trying to write a novel about 16th century Japan, “The Kimono”.

    I will spend some time today reading your site carefully.

    Lady Nyo

  6. I have been curious about the Mon and Kamon for a while, have you any ideas or maybe have learnt why they are always in circles, and why they are symmetrical?

    1. Mon are usually in a disc shape but not always. sometimes they are diamond shape, hexagon, cross shaped, square or rectangular or just are just something like a single butterfly or blossom on its own, not enclosed at all. The symbol being enclosed does make it clear it is a mon and not just a decorative thing.
      I think symmetry is purely aesthetic, as it looks balanced. Some mon are not symmetrical, I have seen ones that are three flying cranes in a diagonal, one that is of two different sized butterflies flying at an angle and ones that are flowers on stems or branches and such or ones that represent coins and none of those is symmetrical but these are quite unusual mon. Symmetry is seen more often but is not an unbroken rule, so I believe symmetry is simply because it looks good

  7. Hello,

    I have a 70 year old Japanese samurai Yoroi (Armour) the Mon is on the Dou (Body Protector) and i cant seem to fing to which family it belongs to. the crestis in a Circle, and it has what I can describe five spheres or balls and in the middle whith what looks like a sun with rays.

    I would really appreciate it if you could help me on this.

    Kind regards
    Jade

    1. I’m not certain but the crest you speak of sounds like umebachi, a plum blossom. There are many variations of it but there is one with five disc shapes, representing the petals, and what you describe as sun like rays in the centre would be the flower stamens. I can’t be sure without seeing it but iit certainly sounds like that one.
      If it looks similar to the one here…http://i1109.photobucket.com/albums/h425/waf004/mon.jpg it is umebachi (plum blossom)

    1. In the many hundreds of mon I’ve seen, in books and on actual clothing, I’ve come across peony, fringed pinks, cherry blossom, plum blossom, balloon flower, chrysanthemum and many, many other flowers but I’ve never seen a mon with camellia, although it is a very popular flower in Japanese textile art and on many of the Japanese kimonos, haori and obis I have, so I’m rather surprised I’ve never seen it in a mon.

  8. Is there a mon which features a symbol for the lotus flower? I have been looking everywhere and have not come up with anything.

    1. I doubt you can track it back to the family who owned it. Many families use the same crests, they can choose one that their family has long since used or just choose one they like and wives can wear their own family’s mon if they want. Mon are not exclusive, so the mon on yours could apply to thousands of different families.
      You can sometimes find out what mon a family uses, such as the Emperor, whose mon is chrysanthemum (kiku), his always is a 16 petal one and I think, out of respect, no one else wears the same one, though others wear chrysanthemum, but that is the only one I know of that is restricted to one family only. So a mon isn’t likely to lead you to the family that owned a kimono displaying it.
      The mon on your kimono is cloves (chôji).
      People may not even be wearing their family mon (kamon), they could be wearing one that applies to something else. Maiko (apprentice geisha) wear a long obi that hangs low at the back and has, on one end, a large mon that is the mon of their geisha house.
      Also, when second or third son in the family marries and establishes his own family, often he modifies his father’s crest, showing his heritage and differentiation. The first son carries the original from his father. All the sons may choose to keep using exactly the same mon as the father or could come up with a modification of it or placing a ring, square or other border around it, combine it with two or three other mon, combine the father’s with an entirely new and original mon design etc. So that can make tracking one back even more impossible. Even when a son alters his fathers, it is likely other families somewhere have that same variation, even though there are thousands and thousands of mon.

  9. Hello!

    And thank you for sharing precious information about what I find being a very specific and refined aspect of Japanese design.

    You mention that Mon can be found on a variety of items, like signs, ceramics, and of course fabrics. I was curious to know if they were also used in jewelry, or, if not, if it is simply culturally inappropriate to do so. I had pendants or rings in mind.

    Many thanks in advance for your answer!

    1. I have seen mon on obidome, which is a sort of brooch like thing, worn at the centre front of an obi, with the obijime (obi cord) threaded through it. I have also seen them on kazanshi (hair ornaments). Traditionally, an obidome is the only jewellery that is meant worn with a kimono outfit, plus, if wished, the ornaments in the hair. They don’t wear any other jewellery with it, though young women nowadays sometimes break the many rules applied to kimono wearing and may add various things that traditionally would never be worn with them.
      I don’t think there are any cultural taboos about mon on jewellery at all but rings (other than wedding) and pendants are not worn with kimonos. As for contemporary jewellery, worn with more westernised style clothing, I have seen some with mon, available in shops in Harajuko in Tokyo, so it is done, though I don’t know if it is widely popular or not.

  10. I have seen mon that is a gold circle with a gold disk in the middle, it reminds me of a simple bulls eye.

    However, I haven’t seen this mon anywhere else so can’t figure out what it means.

    Would you have any idea ?

    1. I can’t see what ‘this mon’ is, I’m afraid. There is no link to a picture.

  11. Satsuma pottery was made in, or around Kagoshima in Kyushu, Japan in
    the later part of the 19th century, through to the early 1920’s in Satsuma in southern Japan. A normal piece of Satsuma will be of a yellowy skin tone and typically enhanced with minute and complex Japanese amounts, landscapes and even monsters. The layouts additionally showcase a form of decoration called Moriage which is a term used to explain using raised enamel seen on many pieces of Japanese and eastern pottery.

    Very nice article. I absolutely love this site. Keep it up!

  12. My husband’s family crest is sumikiri kaki ni chigai shoji. We know his ancestor was samurai in Kyushu, probably Kumamoto. Do you know any history related to this kamon?

  13. Hello,
    I am curious, I have seen many beautiful examples of Japanese ceramics from 1200-1350. ( Ko-Seto ware in Books & Museums) It seems the most popular chrysanthemum motif or design is the 16 petal mon and then I’ve seen also 24, 22 & 12 petals also.

    Now , I am familiar w/ Emperors GoToba ( b.1180 – 1239) & Emporor Go-Diago (b.1288-1339) who were both exiled at one point in their lives to OKI island. During their exiles they both used the 17 petal mon.

    In your opinion, would an authentic stoneware vessel of Kamakura Period have any significance if it has many 17 petal mons stamped on it? Again I’ve seen about 100 examples of Kamakura Period and only have seen one w/ 17 petals!

    Thank You in advance, Mark

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