Samurai family crests

In depictions of battles in medieval Japan, the beautiful and ornate family crests sported by samurai are sometimes as visually arresting as the actual chaos of battle. These samurai crests can be quite intricate in design, and are often based on specific flower motifs.

Here’s a short essay on the cultural significance of Japanese family crests through the years, and another that focuses on their military and heraldic functions.

Unpleasant anniversary

If you can tolerate yet another WW2 link, here’s a moving piece about Hiroshima and its place in Japanese cultural memory.

Zooming in on the siege of Osaka

By the early 1600s, the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu had essentially established himself as ruler of a newly-unified Japan. But at least one potential threat to his legitimacy remained: Toyotomi Hideyori, the son of a previous ruler, encamped at Osaka Castle with unclear intentions… and a growing army.

Ieyasu decided to take action, and unleashed his troops against Hideyori in 1614. The resulting conflict is often billed as the last great samurai battle. (No word on whether or not Tom Cruise was involved.)

National Geographic has a beautiful (and zoomable) painted map depicting the siege of Osaka Castle, along with a short history of the conflict.