Japanese nobori follows certain conventions, just like European armory, even as those conventions are not necessarily the same as European armory. Many of these conventions can be described using European terms: field, charge, etc.


Star-based Mon

Many Japanese charges, such as flowers and ordinaries, can be described using the same terms as their European counterparts. However, other charges, such as tomoe, must be described using Japanese terms or translations of the Japanese terms.

One such charge is the star-based mon, a roundel surrounded by several roundels of the same size or smaller. In O-Umajirushi, translated by Xavid “Kihō” Pretzer, Kihō explains many mon refer to legendary/historic events. In the case of the star-based mon, the mon refers to a victory that occurred after the Chiba prayed to Myōken Bosatsu, a Bodhisattva (spirit of enlightenment) associated with the Big Dipper constellation, and received a vision (Pretzer, p. xxviii). The mon symbolized the moon (either a roundel or, less commonly crescent) surrounded by several smaller roundels representing stars.

In a short review of Daibukan, a book on heraldry in Japan by Hiroshi Hashimoto, shows star-based mon with number of circles varying between 3 and 10 (a 3-star mon looks like a triangle), with most star-based mon containing odd number of roundels. The following star-based mon can be found before 1600 (Solveig confirmed the dates on these pages:

Clearly, while I can’t read Japanese, not all of these individuals are related.

In O-Umajirushi, translated by Xavid “Kihō” Pretzer, the following Star-based mon are shown (quotations are Kihō’s descriptions):

There are two significant differences between these two mon.

  1. Plum bowl mon are always six circles – five outer circles and one inner circle – symbolizing the five petals of a plum blossom. Star-based mon can vary from three to ten circles.
  2. The central circle of the plum bowl mon is always smaller than the outer circles while the central circle of the Star-based mon is the same size or larger than the outer circles.

The Star-based mon and plum bowl mon are clearly single charges, even though they appear to be multiple charges in European heraldry. These charges resemble sparks or ermine spots more than roundels in an arrangement. Examples of nobori with more than one Star-based mon appear in O-umarjirushi.

In treatment, these charges should receive the same treatment given to European charges such as the spark, the ermine spot, or a cross of Jerusalem, in which a charge with multiple noncontinguous parts are still treated as a single unit.


Japanese armory also used charges that resembled some European armory, particularly the fess. However, the Japanese fess had two characteristics that were very different from its European counterpart. The first difference is the thickness of the fess/stripe. The thickness of the fess/stripe could vary significantly, even when a single stripe was used. The thickness of the stripe varies from approximately 1/10th the size of the nobori to 1/3 rd of the nobori. The second difference, and perhaps the most striking, The fess/stripe was not expected to be in the center of the armorial display. The fess/stripe can be located in chief, in the center, or in base. However, the thickest stripes, 1/3rd of the nobori, tend to be in the center of the nobori. (See Appendix A.)

Most Japanese nobori feature a single type of mon on the field. However, there are several examples of nobori with mon above one or more stripes on the field.

Appendix A

Japanese armory uses stripes/bands in much more diverse ways than European armory. As shown below, the stripes/bands vary greatly in thickness and in location on the nobori.

Center bands

Chief bands

Base bands

Non-Horizontal Lines


Hiroshi Haishimoto. Daibukan, Volume I, Tokyo: Meicho Kanōkai, 1965.

Pretzer, Xavid “Kihō”. O-umajirushi: A 17th-Century Compendium of Samurai Heraldry. Cambridge, MA: Academy of the Four Directions. 2015.