Family crest (kamon)
Gilt leather (kinkarakawa)

According to the Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System, kinkarakawa was “Literally ‘gold Chinese leather.’ A kind of decorated leather with patterns created by painting, relief or gold foil. Introduced from Europe in the Edo period, it was used primarily for the decoration of furniture and walls, but also on bags, boxes, and saddles. The materials used are oxhide, cowhide, calfskin and goat skin (kid).”

The original purpose of this kamon is not immediately clear. The cord appears to have been added at a later time, threaded through a hole that was crudely gouged out. There are several other discreet holes in the leather that might have been part of the original design, and would have anchored it to a surface. Note the small notches along the side where the design follows the shape of the zingiber (myoga). The kamon is large enough (nearly 9″ tall) that it might have been intended for use in public processions. Leather was very little used in Japan, but kinkarakawa had special cachet because of its exoticism, rarity, and shimmering surface.

According to John Dower’s The Elements of Japanese Design, the word myoga, when written with different characters, is a homonym for ‘divine protection’, making it an apt symbol for a family in the military aristocracy.