Samurai Heraldry Resources

Image by Emmanuel Evalerio (see below)

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about Samurai heraldry as part of the process of designing the waterslide decals I have on sale here and I thought I’d share some of the materials I’ve found useful in a blog post.

Books

  • Xavid Pretzer (translator) O-umajirushi  –  a 17th-Century Compendium of Samurai Heraldry available as an E-book on Google Books or as a printed copy from Amazon. Unfortunately this record is far from comprehensive at it focusses on the samurai attending the Shogun’s court in the early Edo period and families who were in the Tokugawa bad books are just not portrayed. It’s basically a record of the heraldry of the winners of the power struggles of the Sengoku period.
  • Phillips (ed) – Japanese Heraldry and Heraldic Flags. Here on Amazon. This book will give you a general grounding in the principles of Japanese heraldry and has a very useful chapter entitled “Japanese Heraldry, Battle Flags and Standards in the Age of the Samurai” written by Emmanuel Evalerio (see below). This chapter is very good at showing general principles, but sit is very short on the kind of detail wanted by modellers and wargamers. You can preview some pages from the book here.

Stephen Turnbull – There is useful information about heraldry in just about every samurai  book Stephen Turnbull has written (around fifty titles at the time of writing), but it’s really spread about.  The Samurai Heraldry book he wrote for Osprey is good but, as he says in an authors’s note, he has “tried to avoid duplicating  illustrations of any families that I have covered in previous books” and several of the big names are missing.   It’s still worth getting though, particularly if you’re a wargamer or modeller as he’s written a section about “painting an accurate samurai army in miniature”. He has a website at https://www.stephenturnbull.com/ where you can keep abreast of what he’s writing about .

Out of the Turnbull books I have read I found the following particularly useful in my research.

  • Samurai Heraldry
  • Samurai Warlords has an excellent section on the flags of the Takeda family and several good colour plates.
  • Samurai: the Warrior Tradition covers Takeda Shingen, Uesugi Kenshin and several of their retainers. 

I’m sorry to say that none of these books are particularly useful if you’re looking to find looking for heraldry for a specific lord who is not one of the big names, if you’re extremely lucky you might find what you’re looking for, but usually you won’t.

Online Resources – Web pages, forums and blogs

Emmanuel Evalerio – is a professional illustrator with an interest in samurai heraldry who wrote a chapter in Phillips’ Japanese Heraldry and Heraldic Flags referenced above.  Resources he’s used in his research include historical Japanese art, written sources and pictures of modern re-enactors taking part in festivals celebrating Samurai history.

I must advocate caution when looking at the heraldry used by re-enactors, as like re-enactors everywhere, some of them seem to be not particularly concerned with accuracy in their portrayals. Though they do have they major advantage of being able to access and read Japanese sources. It’s not unusual to see samurai walking about with sashimonos with a name name written on it rather than the correct historical symbol at their events for example and you’ll see colours of standards you won’t see on any historical art (or at least no art that I’ve ever seen). Anyone got a historical reference for a bright purple sashimono?

Here’s an example showing Evalario’s distinctive style. I gave my own wargames force for the game Test of Honour banners based on this picture which can be found in a page of his artwork linked immediately below

Evalario posted prolifically on the Samurai Archives discussion forum, between 2007 and 2010 but most of his work there seems to have been lost when the forum migrated to a new server in 2015. Fortunately one of the main threads he contributed to was archived and there is a large amount of very useful information, pictures and discussion still available on the Wayback Machine at

Samurai Heraldry Gallery

Heraldry during the Sengoku Period – another useful thread I had bookmarked but which is no longer available. Only one page of it seems to be archived on the Wayback Machine and all the pictures are missing.

You’ll find copies of Evalario’s distinctive pictures all over Pinterest, but usually the captioning leaves a lot to be desired.

My Sanada, based on Evalario’s artwork above.

Other useful websites

If you know of any links you think should be her please tell me about them in the comments below or email dereksweetoys@gmail.com

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2 Responses

  1. Emmanuel Valerio says:

    Since the demise of the old Samurai Forum, I have been asked if I plan to replace the lost Samurai Heraldry. The heraldry illustrations I posted there are old and have been ‘retired’. I have since upgraded and updated most of them. I have posted some of my ongoing attempts to update them and document some of the results below:

    https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/japanese_history/samurai-heraldry-illustrations-t1148.html

    The research is ongoing and artwork is constantly being corrected, updated, and new artwork created.

    Emmanuel

    • Derek says:

      Thanks very much for dropping by Emmanuel. Your work is greatly appreciated and has been a huge help to me in putting together my range of decals and my wargames forces.

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