Across history, people have used banners and heraldry to declare their identity and what they command. Japan, too, developed a system of heraldry with its own unique style, using crests, banners, and other devices to identify forces on a battlefield, to identify leadership at home or while traveling, and to symbolize hierarchy and prestige.
In feudal Japan, knowing heraldry was important, both to distinguish friend from foe and to avoid offending or being presumptuous. While some crests were well known, Japan’s size and the distribution of samurai lords among the various provinces made compiling a complete picture of the heraldry in use a challenge.
O-umajirushi is the earliest surviving color compendium of Japanese crests and heraldry. It’s a 205-page book, in six scrolls, published circa 1624–1644. At the time, wood block printing was just starting to allow for widespread distribution of books in Japan. O-umajirushi took advantage of this technology to make color reproductions of the various banners and other devices used by 170 different samurai commanders.
My annotated translation of O-umajirushi translates, explains, and gives context to the source, making this unique heraldic resource accessible to a wider audience.
This book was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign. It wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my 389 wonderful backers.
If you missed the Kickstarter campaign, you can now buy a copy. Any updates or errata will be posted on this site.