In a post on John Saladino last week I talked about mon or kamon, the heraldic crests of Japan. As they are so prevalent in Japanese design, I thought it would be interesting to showcase some of the variety found. In general, they are stylized symmetrical patterns or small pictures placed inside a roundel. They have a long history in Japan, used first by the aristocratic classes and later by the public at large. You can read more about them here.
The 16 petal chrysanthemum is the kamon of the Emperor of Japan and its use by others was prohibited by law. Chrysanthemums with fewer petals could be used though.
One of the original uses of kamon related to war. They were placed on standards to identify troops in a battle. Here is a modern-day version – a Japanese battleship adorned with an imperial kamon.
In this brightly colored vintage kimono you can see many of the same kamon as on the indigo cloth above, including the Tokugawa (wild ginger leaves) kamon and the pine.
This small silver toothpick holder has two kamon – an ume (plum) blossom and a tachibana (wild orange).
While some items are decorated with actual kamon, others are often covered with simple patterns and scenes within the roundels, which are simply called mon. Notice here how the mon are actually etched realistic looking flowers in the rounds and not stylized representations like the kamon above. The design and form make me think that perhaps this Meiji period silver jewelry box was made for export. I was very tempted to buy it (inside it has three gorgeous dark lacquer drawers) but it was out of the price range for a casual impulse buy.
Particularly in porcelain, you see many simplified and stylized (and plain old “made-up”) patterns.
Here again we see fanciful designs in the circles, scattered all over this Imari pot. This kind of patterning is a favorite of mine – I think you can see why I called it “the polka dots of Japan”. I have a memory of two massive urns with a similar mon pattern placed near the entry to the Ralph Lauren store in the Rhinelander Mansion. I wonder if they are still there?
Mon and kamon are seen not only in decorative arts, but in product branding and logos. Two of my favorites below:
The retired logo of Japan Airlines is a crane kamon. What a graceful and beautiful logo and a shame that they changed it to this.
And now for the cutest part of the post! Shu Uemura launched their wonderful cleansing oil in an adorable modern Harajuku version of kamon. Sadly, they are no longer available but I bet that the bottles and containers are probably wildly collectible on eBay. Take a moment and compare these girls to the mon pattern on the silver jewelry box….