Posts tagged Edo period

Mon of the Week: Ladder

As time progressed, the daimyō gained power, and the samurai class came into its own in the Sengoku Period, mon became more universally used for identification among samurai, and the variety of mon used increased. While other forms of identification heraldry were used, including a wide variety of giant objects on poles, mon had the advantage that they could be replicated quickly, used on a wide variety of items (banners, curtains, armor, shields, and personal items), and could be varied easily in color1, background, or placement to represent different divisions of an army.(SH:24) Because of the widespread use of mon and the greater number of surviving records, we have evidence, both written and pictorial, for more mon in the Sengoku and Momoyama periods.

Even as the Edo period approached and mon became more stylistically consistent, they still weren’t as uniform as they later became. For example, while the modern image of mon generally has them about as tall as they are wide, today’s mon doesn’t follow that at all. Then again, it makes sense for a ladder to be tall. Ladders made good mon for several reasons: a simple design, ability to vary rung numbers to create variations, and a shape that mirrored the tall banners often used in battle. It may have also had auspicious connotations of rising in the world.(Dower:118) The ladder mon was used by Makino Tadanari (who used 7 and 10-runged ladders) at the Battle of Osaka in 1614–15 and by Matsudaira (Okochi) Nobutsua (who used an 8-runged ladder) in the Shimbara Rebellion in 1638.2 This latter ladder is shown here.

Here is a modern-style, more square version of the ladder mon. While tall ladders are still in use, they often use a more three-dimensional design than earlier ladders.

Footnotes »

Names and Variation

Unlike English heraldry, which had an ornate system for describing heraldic devices that became divorced from the normal language, Japanese mon are named using simple phrases using reasonably standard Japanese for the time.1 The mon is named as its primary element, possibly prefixed with modifiers indicating its count, enclosure, style, or other characteristics. In some cases, the enclosure or style may itself has modifiers. Here is an example of a mon used by Inaba Masanari in the late 16th century: 隅切り角に三の字 or “sumi-kiri kaku ni san no ji”, which translates to “in a corner-cut square, the character ‘three’ ”.(SH:54)

These descriptive names lead to two ways mon can differ: they can have different names, or they can have the same name but be drawn differently acheter viagra allemagne. Different members of a family might use minor variations on the family mon, and different families that happened to use the same mon (say, in different provinces) ended up having slight differences due to artistic chance. These minor differences might not be expressed in the simple language of mon names, and would not be great for recognition in the heat of battle, but were in some cases taken seriously as a means of distinction. When a variant became well-known enough, it got its own name of the form “Family Charge”; e.g., the “Aoyama Coins”2, to distinguish it from other identically-named mon. Here are several different bellflower mon: the plain bellflower, two slightly-different but identically-named bellflowers in a circle enclosure, and a ‘shadowed’ or outline bellflower.

This gives you a taste of what common samurai mon might look like. We’ll go into more of the history and possible elements for mon next time.

Footnotes »

Mon: Japanese Crests

Mon, or Japanese crests, are one of my favorite Japanese design elements. Mon served much the same purpose as European heraldry: they were used for identification on the battlefield, to mark personal property, and to show family relationships, and sometimes they were given by a superior as a mark of honor. Mon are much simpler, design-wise, then European devices, however. For one thing, mon are monochromatic: color is not considered part of a mon, and the same mon could be drawn white on black, blue on yellow, or any number of other combinations. Secondly, while European devices can be divided in all sorts of different ways and incorporate a large variety of charges, mon tend to be of a few simple designs: one to eight or so copies of a single element, possibly in an enclosure of some sort. There are some patterns that incorporate two elements, but mon never reached anywhere near the density of European devices. Mon favor plant motifs, with the animal motifs favored in Europe quite rare, with the main exception being occasional birds.(JM:Heraldry)

Design elements that would later be mon date back to the Nara period (710–784). These designs were initially used on carriages and clothing, and first saw widespread use in battle in the Kamakura period (1185–1333).(SH:7,12) They were used by the court nobility and by samurai up until the Edo period (1603–1868), when their use, under strict regulations, spread to actors and merchants. Mon are still used today, their clean designs lending themselves to corporate logos such as that of Mitsubishi, which is actually named for the mon used as its logo (“three diamonds”).

There are many interesting categories of mon I could discuss, but let me start with the big, obvious one: Imperial mon. The 16-petaled chrysanthemum has long been the symbol of the Imperial family. Some historians think it actually originated as a stylized sun, referring to the Imperial line’s heritage as descendants of the sun goddess. This was one of the few mon that had usage restrictions on it even before the Edo period; the mon proper was restricted to the Emperor’s household, with the variant of a 14-petaled chrysanthemum seen from the rear for imperial princes, and other variations used by other members of the imperial family at various times. Those who one the favor of the Emperor would sometimes be given permission to use a mon incorporating the chrysanthemum, such a crest being a symbol of imperial favor but also loyalty to the Emperor. Similarly, during their rule of Japan the Ashikaga shōgunate was given use of the paulownia (kiri) mon by the Emperor, and in turn would grant the right to use mon based on it to loyal followers.(SH:6)

16-petaled Chrysanthemum mon

Variations on the paulownia crest

Still, most mon were much less strictly defined, and I’ll discuss more about mon and variation another time.