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Japanese Design Motifs: 4,260 Illustrations of Japanese Crests Paperback – June 1, 1972

4.5 out of 5 stars 32 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, Japanese (translation)

From the Back Cover

This collection presents more than 4,000 individual designs in the 900-year-old tradition of Japanese family crests. Through constant variation and invention over the centuries, this has become one of the richest graphic art traditions in the world.
Most of these motifs are circular, and they can all be fitted into a square. Within those limitations is a seemingly endless range of designs, beginning with the dozens and dozens of root motifs—rice plant, gingko, scallop, lightning, anchor, spool, raft, candle, scissors, fern, saki bottle, lotus blossom, mountain arrow, pine, wisteria, ship, rabbit, and scores of others. Practically every kind of plant, bird, animal, natural phenomenon, and manufactured object of Japanese culture was at one time or another included in a family crest. In addition, each of the root designs was treated to dozens of imaginative variations—they were reproduced bilaterally, in triangles, diamonds, five- and six-pointed stars, in spirals, were built up in series, made to overlap, combined with each other, and so on. Some of these are classic and recognizable designs, like the yin-yang, linked rings, and treasure knot. Many of the others have rarely been seen in the West.
Graphic artists, textile designers, pattern-makers, advertisers, and other commercial artists looking for an untapped source of novel, appealing designs will find a wealth of material here. Some of these motifs can be used to suggest an exotic flavor, and others are universal and can be used almost anywhere.
Dover unabridged publication of the catalog originally compiled around 1913 by the Matsuya Piece-Goods Store, Tokyo.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; 1st edition (June 1, 1972)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486228746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486228747
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 8.2 x 11.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (32 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #354,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Matsuya catalogue of crests is a resource of remarkable depth and breadth for serious students of Japanese design history. Although it lacks the interpretive text of John Dower's classic study on Japanese crests, the unusually large number and relatively complete range of crests pictured allow readers to draw solid conclusions about the relative popularity of certain motifs, like plum blossoms or oak leaves, in Japanese history and to examine how different motifs--such as the Big Dipper and crescent moon or rabbit and high waves--were combined. If one is able to read Japanese, the names of the specific crest designs convey additional valuable information. One of the many copyright-free books published by Dover, the Matsuya catalogue also provides a treasure trove of reproduction-quality design material.
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Following the Meiji Restoration in the nineteenth century, the Japanese people were granted a number of perogatives formerly reserved to the noble and military castes. Among these priveleges was the right to have household arms variously called kamon, monsho, or simply mon. As a result, Japanese around the nation went out and acquired kamon for themselves. The Matsuya Piece Goods Store catalog satisfied their demand for new clothes with nice spiffy kamon on them.
While the Matsuya catalog does provide a cyclopedic view of late nineteenth century notions of what kamon should look like, it does not provide reliable information for those interested in premodern Japan. This is a problem shared with most books about kamon whether in English or Japanese. However, there are a few books available in East Asian libraries and some even currently in print in Japan which do link kamon to clans, families, regions, historical periods, and even specific individuals. If your interest in kamon is of a historical nature, I recommend that you seek these out. If, however, your interest is primarily artistic, this is a fine book with well rendered depictions of a vast aray of these designs.

If you are interested in what Japanese military bearings looked like in the early 17th century, then you would do well to acquire a copy of O-umajirushi: A 17th-Century Compendium of Samurai Heraldry by Xavid "Kiho" Pretzer. This work contains images of a variety of flags, battle standards, and other military bearings many of which incorporate kamon.
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Page, after page, after page of great designs.
Not something you can use for research, but it you are looking for inspiration, this is a book for you. I started putting yellow post-its on the designs I wanted to use (quilting, cross-stitch, stained glass), but I soon gave up when I realized that I was marking almost every page.
This is one of those rare design books that is well worth the money.
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Format: Paperback
Supposedly, there are about 2,000 Japanese family crests, with origins that reach back more than a millenium. And while I can't say whether this book contains all two thousand, it's nevertheless pretty comprehensive. They're presented in columns of black images--each image about 2" in diameter--and grouped by theme (e.g., crests depicting one cherry blossom, then crests based on 2 blossoms, then crests based on 3 blossoms, etc.).

Like other Dover art books, this one is primarily for artists and designers, rather than for students of history/culture. (I used these images for stencilling, during an Anglo-Japanese makeover of our 1870s-era house--and discovered that "chinoiserie" abounds, but "japanesque" is rare. This book became part of an invaluable, and small, set of resources.)
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Format: Paperback
I've lusted after this book ever since I saw it in the library years ago. Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the name (I should've stolen it then!). So what a delight to finally rediscover it. The images in this book have haunted me, and defied my attempts to recreate even a few of them from memory. There are more permutations on each motif than one can possibly think of. An endless wealth of source material for logos, symbols, backgrounds, graphics. This book is a must-have for any designer interested in or influenced by Japanese design!
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I am unable to understand the reviewer who began with the sentence: "How does one rate a book with no words in it? The only way to do it is by description." The book clearly has words in it. It is organized alphabetically, albeit a Japanese alphabet. The crests are organized by motif and the table of contents and index clearly explain the structure of the book. Unless we were reading different books, I found that the book was a significant asset in examining the range and topics of Japanese crests. It is what it is -- an extensive presentation of crests. It provides insight into the objects chosen by Japanese culture to be placed in these highly visible and socially important family icons. Variations of the crests' themes are interesting - - how many ways can a stylized arrow be presented? The Japanese ties to the entire range of nature and human constructs emerge as one peruses the book. Admittedly, it doesn't have the plot of "War and Peace", but it is not intended to do so. I think that this book has value to designers, artists, students of Japanese art and culture, and hobbyists looking for Japanese motifs. I won't haul it around constantly for a good read, but I will consult it as need and interest dictate.
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