The most striking feature of the Japanese heraldic designs is probably its circularity. Many kamon (but not all of them) are indeed built on a circular base or enclosed in a ring. There are many types of enclosures, created in order to distinguish, for example, different branches of a family that would share the same emblem.
There are numerous vernacular publications dealing with Japanese heraldry. When it comes to foreign languages however, the number of publications drops small.
So far, the most “researched” book about kamon in English is probably John Dower’s The Elements of Japanese Design (Boston, Weatherhill, 1971). It features over 2,000 mon and a detailed chapter on the history and symbolism of Japanese heraldry, with bibliographic references.
Pioneer works in the field of Japanese heraldry were published from the end of the 19th century, but this does not mean that kamon were
Like Western heraldry where arms are “blazoned” (to “blazon” coats of arms means to describe them using the formal heraldic language), each Japanese mon has a formal name (in some rare occasions, they may have two) and can therefore be “blazoned” as well. A kamon is generally named after the the different elements that constitute its design (or sometimes after the name of a powerful clan). Actually, that formalisation occurred rather late, probably from the 17th century.
With the proliferation of both kamon and bearers during the Genroku Period (1688-1704), artisans needed a reliable and easy way to identify and record each specific variations of an emblem. At that time, mon were featured on numerous
The Japanese word for “heraldry” is monshō-gaku, 紋章学, which literally translates into “science of insignias”, where gaku means “study / science” and monshō “insignia”. However, Japanese people usually use the word kamon rather than monshō to designate heraldic emblems. The word kamon is composed of two characters: 家紋, where 家 means “house” or “family” and 紋, “mark”. Furthermore, the character 紋 divides itself into 糸, “thread”, and 文, “script” or “decoration”, which shows that 紋 probably designated at first embroidered designs on garments or fabric. In fact, kamon is not the only term that designates a heraldic emblem. One may also use monshō, as indicated earlier, but also mondokoro, daimon, jōmon, etc., or simply mon.
Here are the most common
Heraldry is the science of armorial bearings. Like Western countries, Japan possesses a very ancient heraldic tradition, although very different from our coats of arms. Japanese heraldic signs are generally referred to as kamon. They usually feature monochromatic circular-shaped designs, which rely heavily on symmetries.
Kamon are sorted into families, each family representing the same subject or emblem. Those families can in turn be grouped into six broad categories, generally