We must go back to the age before the Heian period (794-1185) to trace the origin of Japanese family crests. Noble families, in any country, have obviously possessed beautiful furniture or tableware decorated with lovely patterns since long ago. Japan is no exception. Those patterns were allegedly the origin of their family crests. At the end of the period, court nobles started to use their original symbols as their family icons to let people recognize who the family was, or which family the items belonged to. After the Heian period had ended, the age of samurai began. The ‘kamon’ culture of this samurai society widely spread in the middle of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), due in large part to so many wars. At this time, there were numerous opportunities for samurai warriors to success in battle, yet they needed their own individual icons on the battlefield to be recognized. Who had done such a great job to achieve victory for their troops after all? On the other hand, the ‘kamon’ culture of the court society had almost died out as there had not been a need for war.
Let’s check out some samples of Japanese family crests on the left! They are all beautiful, aren‘t they? The 16-petal chrysanthemum called Jurokugiku (#1) is well known as the Imperial Seal of Japan. You will also see it on Japanese passports. Three hollyhock leaves in a circle are known as Mitsuba-aoi (#2), which is the family crest of the mighty Tokugawa that governed Japan during the Edo period. Paulownia (#3) has often been used as the governments’ seal since the Muromachi period (1338-1573), and is now the Government Seal of Japan.
The Maeda family, ancient lords over Kanazawa, uses the Ume blossoms called Kaga-umebachi. Why the blossoms? It’s said because Toshiie (1538-1599), the founder of the Kaga domain, believed that Michizane Sugawara (845-903), enshrined at the Tenmangu shrines as the god of academic achievement, was one of his ancestors. Michizane loved the blossoms so much, so that Tenmangu shrines also use the seal of ume blossoms.