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.NEW....My answers to the questions about Japan, samurai & warlords
that I've been getting via visitors' emails.
  Click Here.




The picture above is a parade of the Top Ten among Japanese family crests, i.e. their basic designs have been most often used in cranking up other family crests since before the first thousand years. Besides the 18-petalled golden chrysanthemum, which is the Imperial Family's crest, the most widespread crest designs consist of the following (the clans that are mentioned first are those whose crests are shown as examples of each category in the main picture above):


mokko: something like a nest of petals (1)
Oda, Omura, Arima, Ikeda, Onodera, Takigawa, Takahashi, Wada, Naito, Mikumo

kiri: paulownia flowers (2)
Toyotomi, Minamoto, Fujiwara, Kiso, Rusu, Ishikawa, Natsuka

fuji: wisteria flowers (3)
Ichijo, Fujiwara

miyoga: wild ginger-like plants symbolizing piety (4)
Nabeshima, Otomo, Ando, Atagi,Tsugaru, Itami, Nakagawa, Okubo

tachibana: orange flower (5)
Ii, Suwa, and of course Tachibana

takanoha: eagle's feather(s) (6)
Saigo, Asano, Aso, Kikuchi, Otani

omodaka: ginkgo flower (7)
Mizuno, Kinoshita, Oyamada, Akizuki

katabami: heart-shaped leaves that form a flower (8)
Sakai, Mimura, Chosokabe, Matsudaira, Tokugawa

kashiwa: oak leaf (9)
Kasai, Abe, Matsuura

tsuta: ivy (10)
Matsunaga, Shibuya

Click here for pictures of the real flowers, leaves, etc. that were made into the most popular samurai family crests.

Do you know that the TAIRA clan has a real flower as a symbol and substitute of their banner & family crest? Click here.

Some used dots to form flowers and such -- like the famous clans under Oda Nobunaga's overlordship: Maeda, Kuki, Tsutsui, Hosokawa. The Chiba clan also used dots as flower petals.


samurai crests


The Rusu, Nasu, and Kusunoki clans incorporated a chrysanthemum in their crests, signifying the imperial DNA in their ancestors' veins.


samurai crests


A few unimaginatively used kanji, such as the mighty Mori, the blunderer Ishida, and a number of well-known warrior clans like Honda, Ukita, Hara, Inoue, and Murakami.


kanji crests


A warlord's clan preceded the Meiji to World War II flag: the Ryuzoji's crest has already been featuring sunrays since 14th century.


Ryuzoji clan's crest


Crests were thought up based on a good many considerations, and a great chunk of those couldn't survive being rationally vivisected. Handles, for example, which surround the Akagawa crest, meant good luck being pulled into the person fluttering the crest. In this case Oda's crest had its flower petals to resemble handles a bit, too.

Japan has, until today, a 'flower language' of its own. Since flowers make a lot of family crests, maybe you'd better check out what every flower means to the Japanese (click here).


Oda Nobunaga wearing crest-laden robes

Oda Nobunaga in pants full of prints of his family crest. Oda's ancestors were the Taira clansmen, arch-enemies of the Minamotos.


Minamoto Yoshitsune in a robe exactly like Oda Nobunaga's

The greatest of all samurai in all times,Minamoto Yoshitsune, in pants that looks exactly like Oda Nobunaga's.


There are beautiful samurai crests such as Akagawa's, Taira's, Nagano's and Yagyu's:


beautiful crests


And there are hard-to-fathom crests like the ones belonging to the clans of Araki, Hineno, Mogami, and Soma:


nondescript, unfathomable crests


There were complicated and hard-to-emulate crests like the ones upheld by the Akita, Date, Muneshige, and Tada clans:


complicated crests


And there were those very famous clans whose crests were much too simple to forget (and too hard to be seen as crests when stencilled on daily stuff), such as Kuroda's, Kato's, Niwa's and Takemata's coats of arms:


simplest clan crests


While a few warlords of 16th century already fluttered 'modern' and 'postmodern' or 'contemporary' or (in their times) 'futuristic' designs over their luggage, like the crests of the families of Suganuma, Hatakeyama, Hojo, Horio, and Ujiie:


futuristic crests


The use of family crests in Japan is usually said to have started in Heian era (around the year 750), but in real life even when the capital city of the country was still in Nara (around 600) some people already put on some crests on their belongings. Even when Nara didn't exist yet -- the capital was in Asuka, in 500's -- Empress Suiko has put some symbols on her banners, for a very practical reason: she went to war a lot, and it was hard for her men to see where she was any given time in battlefields. She ordered her Generals to do the same because otherwise she couldn't scold the underachievers in the aftermath of such battles.


Heian cart Minamoto vassal Imperial crest at torii of Meiji shrine
Samurai family crests used to be emblazoned all over the Heian carts. Minamoto versus Taira clan's final battle in 1185 started the boom of samurai crests. The Imperial crest is put on top
of the gate of Meiji shrine in Kyoto.


Why did the Japanese bother to find family crests? Because since the year 500 there were too many noblehouses already, especially those whose daily biz was loitering around the Imperial Palace but nowhere around the Imperial succession line.


Taira Sadamori Minamoto Yoritomo
Taira Sadamori in 1185

And his enemy, Minamoto Yoritomo


Princes #7 and subsequent siblings had to move out of the Imperial House and made their own families, which in time evolved into clans. Asuka in late 500's was reportedly already crowded with such noblepersons.

They all might have had some home addresses far away inland, but they kept mansions in the capital city, and those mansions were full of retainers, servants, errand-boys, cooks, dealers, and so forth. Those people might carry their bosses' (i.e. their lords') stuff -- carriages, litters or sedan-chairs, oxen, horses, food trays, vegetable baskets, etcetera in public places and public events; so the stuff simply must be marked by something as somebody's property or else -- whatever might happen.

So that's why in 700's people put family crests virtually everywhere, from carts to arrows to tiny weeny tea cups.


Oda Nobunaga's saddle Emperor's basket Fujiwara's mirror Matsunaga's plate
Oda's saddle Emperor's basket Fujiwara's mirror Matsunaga's plate


Click on to the next page for more samurai family crests, battle-banners, battle-standards, and all the clutter around warlords in battlefields every time around because of this thing named 'mon'.


Japanese Flowers ANOTHER "NEXT"   NEXT Next Crests



Nina Wilhelmina


Site & Rap © 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 Nina Wilhemina

All rights reserved. Every borrowed image at this site is put for non-profit educational purposes only.




Sources tapped for this page: Nihon Shakai no Kazoku teki Kosei (Tokyo: 1948); Kono Shozo, Kokumin Dotoku Yoron (Tokyo: 1935); Anesaki Masaharu, Nichiren, the Buddhist Prophet (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1916); Robert Cornell Armstrong, Light from the East, Studies of Japanese Confucianism (University of Toronto, Canada, 1914); Sasama Yoshihiko, Nihon kassen zuten (Yuzankaku, 1997); William Aston, Shinto: The Way of the Gods (London: Longmans, Green, 1905); Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1946); Charles Eliot, Japanese Buddhism (London, 1935); Futaki Kenichi, Chuusei buke no saho (Yoshikawa Kobunkan, 1999); Kiyooka Eichii, The Autobiography of Fukuzawa Yukichi (Tokyo, Hokuseido Press, 1934); Konno Nobuo, Kamakura bushi monogatari (Kawade shobo shinsha, 1997); Nukariya Kaiten, The Religion of the Samurai (London: Luzac, 1913); A.L. Sadler, The Beginner's Book of Bushido by Daidoji Yuzan (Tokyo: Kokusai Bunka Shinkokai, 1941); A.L. Sadler, The Makers of Modern Japan (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1978); Satomi Kishio, Nichirenism and the Japanese National Principles (NY: Dutton, 1924); Suzuki D.T., Zen Buddhism and Its Influence on Japanese Culture (Kyoto: The Eastern Buddhist Society, 1938); Henri Van Straelen, Yoshida Shoin (Leiden: Brill, 1952); Robert Bellah, Tokugawa Religion; Sato Hiroaki, Legends of the Samurai (Overlook Press, 1995); Masaaki Takahashi, Bushi no seiritsu: Bushizo no soshutsu (Tokyo: Tokyo daigaku, 1999); Stephen Turnbull, Samurai Warlords (London: Blandford Publishing, 1992); Paul Akamatsu, Meiji 1868, Revolution and Counter-Revolution (Allen & Unwin, 1972); Nitobe Inazo, Bushido, The Soul of Japan (Tokyo: Tuttle, 1970); Paul Varley and Ivan Morris, The Samurai (Weidenfeld, 1970); Inoguchi and Nakajima, The Divine Wind: Japanese Kamikaze Force in World War II (Hutchinson, 1959), Seki Yukihiko, Bushi no tanjo (Tokyo: NHK, 2000); Amino Yoshihiko, ed. Edojidai no mikataga kawaruho (Tokyo: Yosensha, 1998).


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