Kunichika, 36 Good and Evil Beauties – Kiyoshi Hikariin
The fine Kunichika print from a series of vengeful and noble women, features a brilliant yellow folding screen in the background. People often wonder what the story is behind so many Japanese decorative motifs, for example, the beautiful circular device that decorates the screen in this print. This device is the Tokugawa’s clan crest, known in Japanese as a mon. The Tokugawa crest shown below is the triple hollyhock which actually belongs to the birthwort or wild ginger family, and has been a readily recognized icon in Japan for centuries, symbolizing in equal parts the Tokugawa clan and the last shogunate. The Tokugawa clan ruled Japan for nearly six hundred years until their collapse in 1868.
The device is a design of three ginger leaves in a circle. These mon are emblems used to decorate and identify an individual or family or group of actors or companies, While a mon is a term that may refer to any such device, a kamon as in this case, refers specifically to emblems used to identify a family.
Japanese prints are commonly littered with these symbols. An actor will commonly carry the mon of his family or clan on his robes as well as the mon of the character that he is portraying. In some cases, several actors with several mon and several competing families will dominate the decorative background of a print!