Kuki Archives: Hidari Mitsudomoe ~ Part 2

This is the continuation of the discussion on the Hidari Mitsudomoe, one of 2 family crests of the main Kuki line. In part 1 the historical, cultural, and spiritual symbolism in relations the tomoe emblem in Japan, and Asia as a whole, was introduced. For this post, we will focus solely on the Hidari Mitsudomoe’s connection to the Kuki clan, from how it was possibly acquired to how it played a role within their own personal history.


The Kuki clan’s main line has, for as long as it is known, been associated with this family crest. It is visibly shown in some of their works and activities. It may even appear on banners in public activities they take part in as well. While this crest is generally called “Hidari Mitsudomoe”, take note that there are actually 2 variations: one is a regular version, and another is a slimmer version called “Hosoi Hidari Mitsudomoe”. For the slimmer one, the 3 commas are much thinner, but still round out to make a proper circle. Is there any significant differences between the two? Other than appearances, possibly not.

These photos show the book “Kukishinden Zensho: Nakatomi Shintō, Kumano Shugendō”. 1st pic features the cover of both the book and its box dust cover. 2nd pic is of the back of both items. Note that on the back is the Hidari Mitsudomoe, which overlaps another emblem called “Jurokuyae Omotegiku”.


While mentioned to be a family crest even within their own works, The Kuki clan have not put out much info regarding the source from where they acquired the Hidari Mitsudomoe. Actually they are not entitled to, especially since in today’s generation the use of family emblems do not possess the same weight as in the past. Piecing together possible sources of information on the topic takes a bit of work, primarily with historical documents that deal with cultural practices.

Fortunately, there are valuable sources that keep records on the numerous family crests used through Japan’s history, which explain detailed information from the meaning behind each one, to the families that are linked to them. Looking back at the roots of the Kuki family has given me an idea of the possible source of the family emblem in question.

The general consensus from sources regarding kamon history state that the Kuki clan are indeed hereditarily associated with the Hidari Mitsudomoe. One theory on this is based on the original roots of the Kuki clan. The founder of the Kuki clan, Kuki Ryūshin, originally bore the family name “Fujiwara”. The Fujiwara clan was a noble family of the imperial court. There are several Fujiwara lines to be exact, so to be more specific, it is said that he is a descendant of the Fujiwara no Takaie¹. Takaie was the 4th son of Fujiwara Kitaie², who belonged to one of the Fujiwara lines that used the Hidari Mitsudomoe as a family emblem. This is primarily because Kitaie’s family were worshipers of the deity Hachiman (god of war), and helped spread its influence throughout Japan with the construction of many small shrines. This theory tends to be the common and most feasible in Japanese sources.

Next, a point to consider is the connection between the Kuki family and their role within Shinto practices. For many generations they have served in Shinto shrines, from when their ancestors were still a part of the Fujiwara clan, to even after this when the Kuki clan established in Kuki Ura. If we look at when several members served as betto³ (chief administrative of a temple) for the Kumano Hongu Taisha, the perception of the tomoe with its spiritual connections and as a mark of protection was already in place at the time. Being the shinmon (deity emblem) of Kumano Hongu Taisha, the Hidari Mitsudomoe can be found all over this shrine. Another interesting point is that another emblem called “Jurokuyae Omotegiku⁴” (a type of Kikuka⁵ emblem) is also associated with this shrine. On top of this, the Kuki clan uses a combination of both emblems, with the Hidari Mitsudomoe overlapping the other. Apart from the association due to the connection with Kumano Hongu Taisha, I am not sure the reasoning behind using both emblem in such fashion.


Kuki Yoshitaka is generally mentioned in association with the Hidari Mitsudomoe. It’s stated that on such items like the back of his jinbaori⁶ (a special vest worn by a commander) and the flag of his large ships bore the Hidari Mitsudomoe mark. Other members of the Kuki clan also used this emblem openly. Of course, this was by those who inherited it or were granted permission to use it. Places where this can be seen at an abundance are where they had resided as land owners, such as Kuki Cho.


A pic of a miniature-scaled large battle ship “Nihon Maru” (日本丸). From the book “Kukishinden Zensho”.

A town in Kuki Ura after Kuki Ryūshin moved his family to reside there, Kuki Cho is an area where the Hidari Mitsudomoe saw great use. Apart from being used as a family crest, many old buildings within Kuki Cho are said to bear this crest along the eaves of roofs and sides of the walls. It is also found on grave sites of certain Kuki members as well. Due to their control over this area, it would make sense that they would express their presence in such manner. The same can be said in other places such as where Toba castle once stood (Toba, Mie Prefecture).


In the book “Kukishinden Zensho: Nakatomi Shintō, Kumano Shugendō⁷”, which is based heavily on the documentations kept in the care of the main line of the Kuki clan, features a page with a discussion on the Hidari Mitsudomoe. Other than stating much of the popular conceptions about this emblem explained in part one, this also contains views and insights about what it means to the Kuki clan itself. Below are a few excerpts from that page, with the actual Japanese text followed by my translations.


The page from the book “Kukishinden Zensho”, where the original Japanese text about the Hidari Mitsudomoe is taken from.



Incidentally, the triple 3-head left sided comma…is the family crest of the Kuki clan.


This kanji “巴” (ha⁸) is thought to be a hieroglyphic character representing the appearance of a snake or of such nature coiling upon itself. It’s also said to to be a character that symbolizes a whirlpool’s turning waters. As such, from this idea of “whirlpool’s water”, it was then used as an abumigawara (a roof tile consisting of a semi-cylindrical tile and a decorative pendant) for shrines and temples as a charm to ward off fire.


The 3 commas is thought to express (3-point) ideas such as heaven-earth-person (creation of all things), wisdom-virtue-valor (3 primary virtues), and the religious idea of “spirit–present-astral” (3 boundaries of the physical & spiritual realms). However, in the Kuki clan’s case, this is also found in the Shinto prayers to the grand kami of the Takamikura Jingu, a shrine that they also have a connection with….


The last point is key to understanding the significance of the Hidari Mitsudomoe to the Kuki clan, for it is very unique to them; the 3 commas are symbolic of Mihashira no Ookami⁹, or 3 grand gods pinnacle to the creation of all things within their version of shinto. There’s also connections to the term “mitsu no tomoshibi¹⁰” (3 guiding lights), which involves the rescue of Southern Emperor Godaigo, along with the 3 sacred treasures that were retrieved by and protected by Kuki Ryushin in the 1300s. However, despite these details explained in the aforementioned book, trying to understand the full gist of all this is a difficult task to undertake for many reasons, which will steer far away from this post’s main focus, which is on the Hidari Mitsudomoe.


We’ve reached the end of this topic regarding the Kuki clan’s use of the family emblem called Hidari Mitsudomoe. As mentioned from the 1st post, there is much history regarding the tomoe emblem, let alone the Hidari Mitsudomoe. The same can be said with the Kuki clan due to their religious background and beliefs. I hope that touching upon different aspects of this has helped to get an understanding its relationship with the Kuki clan, and why it would be used as their kamon. Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for more!

1) 藤原隆家. The “no” part is generally omitted in written form, but said verbally.

2) 藤原北家

3) 別当

4) 十六八重表菊. This is considered an imperial emblem.

5) 菊花

6) 陣羽織

7) 九鬼神伝全書中臣神道熊野修験道. Written by Agō Kiyohiko (吾郷清彦), an associate to the main line of the Kuki clan who was given the task of reviewing & archiving their many documents.

8) “Ha” is another pronunciation for tomoe. This is onyomi (non-native Japanese reading) for this kanji, and is shown that to be so as it is written in katakana, which is one of Japanese’s writing styles and can indicate words that are foreign.

9) 三柱大神

10) 三つの灯火