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A translation of a unique 17th-century compendium of samurai heraldry, annotated with the symbolism and stories behind the banners.
A translation of a unique 17th-century compendium of samurai heraldry, annotated with the symbolism and stories behind the banners.
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389 backers pledged $14,101 to help bring this project to life.

Sources of Excitement

Posted by Xavid (Creator)

It's started to get cold around here, which makes it perfect for staying inside and pouring over books!  I've mostly finished identifying the various samurai in O-umajirushi and adding some minimal biographic information.  Now that that and the translation pass is complete, I mainly have to flesh out my annotations with further research and compile the front matter for historical context and other explanations. Part of this, of course, is adding the various stretch goals you wonderful people achieved. A lot of my current work is finding good sources of new information and images.

A lot of my sources are secondary sources in Japanese, but I found one source the other day that's significantly more exciting. The most famous early Japanese armorials are O-umajirushi and Kenmon Shokamon (from the 15th century), but that doesn't mean there weren't others. The one I just found, Shoshō Kisei Zu, was published in 1637, just before O-umajirushi. One reason it gets overshadowed by O-umajirushi is that it wasn't printed in color: instead, line drawings are labeled with tiny captions indicating color. Still, because it was published at about the same time as O-umajirushi, and presumably in similar circumstances, it has many of the same standards and banners.

For example, here is Tokugawa Yoshinao's great standard in O-umajirushi:

And here is the same banner in Shoshō Kisei Zu, helpfully labeling the hollyhock mon as "shiro" ("white") and the background as "akatsuchi" (a "red ground"):

Why is this useful? Well, in addition to providing some interesting historical context about the dawn of color woodblock printing, Shoshō Kisei Zu also has different caption information than O-umajirushi, helping to clarify and confirm things like what materials were used for some of the three-dimensional standards. Plus, looking at different depictions of the same device helps clarify what details were important and what might be considered artistic license.  (Here, for example, the direction of the hollyhock stems is different between the two versions.)

Meanwhile, I've been looking at other sources for the "additional images" stretch goal, and I've found some interesting examples on how Japanese heraldry was used. This is an area where your support was particularly valuable: I used Kickstarter funds to license some images from the Boston MFA that I wouldn't have been able to use otherwise, and they'll really add to the book.  Combined with public domain and freely usable images, like the ones the Met in New York makes available for academic uses, this is adding up to lots of pretty pictures.

These images are particularly useful in showing off some of the ways mon were used off the battlefield.  Keeping with the theme, here's a 17th century porcelain dish from the Met with the same hollyhock mon, likely intended as a gift for the Shōgun:

Thank you again for all your support, and may you find these ever-shorter days filled with warmth and pleasant surprises.

Tieg Zaharia, Ron Coens, and 13 more people like this update.


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