Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Crookusai kamon

Feudal Japanese clans developed a system of family crests, nominally similar to the European system of heraldry. These family crests, called kamon (家紋 "family crest" [1]) were first invented to mark the clothing of soldiers fighting for a particular nobleman. Later they were added to flags, tents, and other equipment. They made it easy for the soldiers (who were usually illiterate) to quickly identify friend or foe. Many (if not all) kamon are encircled by a roundel (disc) and usually depict abstract designs, often of plants or animals.[2] Even though we're not Japanese, I thought it would be fun to create a kamon for my family.

I started by putting an eight-point between the two circles of the roundel. The star represents Star Valley, Wyoming (one of our favorite places on the Earth) and the eight points represent my parents, my four sisters, my brother, and me. I also aligned the star so that instead of pointing strait up and down, it was rotated 0.75° clockwise just as Polaris, the northern star, is currently about 0.75° away from being directly above the Earth's north pole.[3] I did this as a representation that our family was sealed together forever [4] by the power of God in one of His temples and that we point our lives toward Jesus Christ.[5]

In the center of the kamon I wanted to put a drawing of a Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta). I had several reasons for wanting to do this: 1. my family loves the song of the meadowlark [6], 2. my parents own some property in Star Valley, which they've named Larkwhistle, 3. my family loves singing (several of my siblings have been Box Elder Madrigals), and 4. Leann and I enjoy going birding together.[7] When I started out drawing the meadowlark, I had big dreams of making it highly stylized and to have it standing with its feet wrapped around the edge of the star, as though it were perched on it. But my imagination exceeded my abilities. So I resorted to tracing some photographs of meadowlarks, instead.[8] Even then, once I had the vector drawings [9] of the meadowlarks, I didn't feel like they really fit in the kamon. So I abandoned that idea, but decided to share the drawings of meadowlarks, anyway.

I finally settled on using an image of a typical legume flower. It fit nicely in the circle of the kamon and it represents my field of research: nitrogen fixation by soil bacteria in symbiosis with legumes.[10] When I was almost done, Leann asked what I was drawing. I was zoomed in on the lines on the banner petals (the back two petals). She said that it looked like a sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus). She was right. So, I modified it a little so that the resemblance to the sage grouse was even more pronounced. (If you do a Google image search for "sage grouse", you can confirm this.)

And here you have it, the kamon of the ancient and estimable clan of Crookusai (クルックサイ) [11], in color (as it would appear on a flag or uniform) and in black and white (as it would appear cast in iron). Since kamon are named after the image they depict, rather than the clan they pertain to, I named it mameraichou (マメライチョウ, "legume grouse" or "bean grouse").


[1] Also called monshō (紋章 "chapter crest"), mondokoro (紋所 "place crest"), or just mon (紋 "crest"). See (crest).

[2] I am particularly impressed with the Agehachō (揚羽蝶 "swallowtail butterfly") kamon of the Taira clan. You can see it here.

[3] See star#Northern pole star (North_Star).

[4] Latter-day Saints (Mormons) often use the word "sealing" to indicate a marriage performed in one of our temples. Because these marriages are performed by the power of God, they do not end at death but last for eternity. I recommend you visit here and here, where you can learn more about LDS beliefs concerning marriage. If you have more questions, ask and maybe I'll do a full post on the topic.

[5] The Salt Lake City temple, which is where my parents were married, has a depiction of the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) on the west side. This is a symbolic reminder that the covenants we make in the temple help us to orient ourselves towards Jesus Christ. See See also and

[6] You can listen to the song here.

[7] For example, see here and here.

[8] For my source material, see the image attributions below.

[9] If you're unsure what a vector graphic is, see my post Raster Graphics and Vector Graphics.

[10] To learn more about nitrogen fixation, see my post What Is It That Matt Does Anyway?

[11] The Japanese word クルック (kurukku) is borrowed from the English word crook (for more information about the origins of the last name Crook, see here). To this I appended さい (sai) in order to imitate the name of the famous Japanese printmaker, Katsushika Hokusai (葛飾 北斎). Incidentally, the katakana character ク (ku), appears twice in the word kurukku, and by itself is translated by Google Translate as "General". There was a General George Crook who distinguished himself during the Civil War and the later Indian Wars. Crook County in Wyoming, Crook County in Oregon, and Crook, Colorado are all named after him.

Image attributions:

The leftmost meadowlark was traced from a photograph by Kevin Cole, available at Meadowlark.jpg.

The leftmost meadowlark was traced from a photograph by George Jameson, available here. Because it is a work produced by the U.S. Federal Government (the USGS), the photograph is in the public domain.

The rightmost meadowlark was traced from a photograph by Michael Werner, available here. He retains the copyright. A note to Michael Werner: If you find this page and object to the usage of your image, notify me (leave a comment) and I will remove it immediately.

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