Archive for September, 2010

Element of the Week: Feathers

Today we look at a straightforward motif in mon: feathers. Generally described as hawk’s feathers (or, depending on translation, falcon’s feathers), they are graphically simple and have flexibility in number and arrangement. They have a military connotation, both from hawks being hunting birds and from the tradition of fletching arrows with feathers from birds of prey.(Kyudo) Falconry was also a popular and respected sport for both samurai and nobility from the Heian Period (794–1185).(Dower:94)

Here we have a simple 5-feather mon from the Muromachi-period collection of provincial samurai mon.(KJ:7) It shows the more free-form nature of earlier mon by being notably wider than it is tall, which became rarer as mon became more formalized.

Five Feathers MonWatch movie online The Lego Batman Movie (2017)

This even earlier mon, used by the Kikuchi family in the 14th century,(SH:14) is interesting for its use of a half feather, an unusual way of creating a distinctive mon. The same family would later use other mon incorporating an even two feathers.(en.wp:Kikuchi_clan)

Two and a Half Feathers Mon

Mon of the Week: Pine-bark Gourds

Here we have another mon incorporating the chestnut/diamond motif discussed earlier, this one from the 15th century colection of provincial samurai mon.(KJ:7) This mon uses a variation of the three chestnut design with the bottom diamond small to match the top one. This variant is called the “pine-bark diamonds” (松皮菱/matsukawa hishi),(IEJFC:352.2) for reasons that are unclear. The chestnut designs are on gourds of a type (瓢/hisago, “bottle gourd”) that was hollowed-out, dried, and used to carry water. The gourds are in turn supported by mysterious ball-ended sticks. These may be stylized vines or representations of the cords that would often be tied around the middle of such gourds to carry them. They may also represent sticks used to hit gourds when using them as percussion instruments, often for religious purposes.(EAH:Bottle Gourds)

This version of the three-diamonds motif tessellates well, and was also used as a fabric pattern in the Momoyama period (1568–1603).(JAANUS:Matsukawabishi)

Gourds with DiamondsWatch movie online Rings (2017)

Mon of the Week: Three Bamboo Poles

Bamboo groves are commonplace in Japan, and bamboo has long been used as a construction material and for uses such as piping (due to its hollowness) and can easily be sharpened into a spear. Here we have a different take on bamboo found in the collection of provincial mon.(KJ:7) Unlike the more popular depiction of bamboo leaves in clumps, as we saw in our recent fan with bamboo, this mon has single leaves protruding sharply at right angles from the trunks. This gives the leaves a harsher, almost spearhead-like appearance. With the minimal information given by the source, any motivation behind this depiction would be pure speculation; suffice it to say that while variations of bamboo have always been popular in Japanese heraldry and design, this particular version did not catch on.

In Six Bamboo Grass Leaves, Three Bamboo Poles