Sunday, December 9, 2012

Japanese Family Crests

Japanese Family Crests are similar in concept to a Western Coat of Arms. They were the inspiration for my 6th grade East Asian lesson for Cultural Heritage Week. If my internet sources are correct, Mon means "crest" and Ka-Mon means "family crest". 
I introduced the lesson with a PowerPoint, we discussed, and then I gave a quick demo. We focused on crests starting with a circle since many examples we saw have radial designs. When I was researching, I drew parallels between design elements in the crests and Yin-Yang. I found that Yin-Yang started in China but was used in Japan. That seems to be a trend in Japanese Art- adapting things that began in China. I don't know if any experts would mention Yin-Yang and Mon, but it made me feel like an Art Historian to see a possible connection and research it. :)
The students found the center of their paper by using their paper to connect diagonal corners (the center of the resulting "X" is the center of the paper) and used that dot as the center point for drawing a circle with a compass. I always suggest that the students hold the compass steady and swivel the paper. That seems to work better for most of us than trying to rotate the compass without adjusting the size. After the circle was created, the students had tons of freedom as far as how to create their crests. I just ask them to try to achieve a balance of positive and negative space (we talked about how patterns are a good way to do this.) If the students didn't know where to start, I suggested they think of something that represents them or their family and simply that into a symbol or look through the examples for inspiration. Example: One student is really into Boy Scouts so he used a canoe paddle as the central image in his design. I found a great PDF with a lot of examples* that was easy to print off enough copies for each table. The PDF was a great resource for the students. After our quick reminder discussion about inspiration vs. copying prior to starting, everyone did a great job. This website also has a lot of images and this one has history and compares Japanese Crests to Coat of Arms.

*It's a small world! One of my students was really excited that he found his family crest in the PDF. He said his mother is half Japanese. I've seen a wide range of estimates about the number of Family Crests that exist and 10,000 seems to be middle of the road. What are the chances that I just happened to print off a PDF with a very small sample of Japanese crests and one of my students in Kansas found HIS family's crest? Pretty cool!
The first day was reserved just for drawing with pencil. Most students needed the majority of the second day to finish planning. I asked them to lightly mark with pencil which areas would be filled in black and to let me check it before they started with marker. I told them it's always good to have another set of eyes check to see if your patterns make sense. After getting their plans checked, the students set to work filling in the designated areas with black permanent marker.


  1. These are really interesting...I've never seen or heard of Ka-Mon before. Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Very cool, thanks for the rich background info : )