Musashi's Family Crest

The Hōkōsho, an ancestral record drawn up in 1696, and submitted to the administrators of the Okayama fiefdom in the province of Bizen by a certain Miyamoto Kohei, a nephew of Mikinosuke and head of a contingent of ashigaru of Ikeda Masakoto (1645–1700), the master of Okayama castle, on a stipend of two-hundred-and-fifty koku. Kōhei was fifty-five at the time, which means that, though he never knew Mikinosuke, he might have known Musashi’s other adoptive son, Iori, who must have visited the neighboring province of Harima regularly during the reconstruction of the Tomari shrine (see below).

Also titled the Minamoto Kōhei senzo-zuke, or the ancestral records of Minamoto Kōhei state that:

養祖父宮本三木之助儀、中川父志摩之助世倅にて御座候、私ためには實の伯父にて御座候。宮本武蔵と申す者の養子に仕り、児小姓の時分 本多中務様へ罷出、知行七百石下され、御近衆に召仕われ候、九曜巴紋に付け候へと仰せをもって、唯今に付け来り申し候、御替御紋と承り候、 圓泰院様、寛永三年寅五月七日 御卒去の刻、同十三日、二十三歳にて御供仕り候。

My adoptive grandfather, Miyamoto Mikinosuke, was officially the son of Lord Nakagawa Shimamunosuke, and a real uncle to me. He became the adopted son of the man called Miyamoto Musashi, and when young, entered the service of the Honda clan on a stipend of seven hundred koku and allowed to use their nine-fold tomoe crest; and even to this day, we are allowed to do so and so it is now known as the family crest of the Miyamoto clan. He passed away on seventh day of the fifth month of the third year of the Kanei era [June 30, 1626] and would have celebrated his twenty-third birthday on the thirteenth day of the said month.

The origin of the tomoe as a design in family crests is uncertain. The comma-like shape is believed by some to originate in the leather guard worn by archers on their left wrist to protect them from the impact of the bowstring after it had been released. The guard was called a tomo, hence the name tomo-e, or “picture of the tomo.” Others trace the pattern to mainland China, where a such patterns can be found on ancient artifacts. In Japan, comma-shaped jewels have been found in prehistoric tomb sites, although their symbolic meaning is unclear.

The tomoe was first introduced as a heraldic pattern during the tenth century, and quickly caught on through its bold yet graceful simplicity. It was so successful that by the late Heian period, it had become a ubiquitous design, not only in heraldry, but also under the eaves and on the edges of the roof tiles of temples. The latter application had much to do with the poplar belief that the tomoe represented a whirlpool and could thus protect the building from damage through water. Through its association with temples the tome gradually acquired a religious connotation, so that by Musashi’s time, it had become the symbol of Hachiman, the god of war.

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