Mitsuba-aoi (Three Leaves of Hollyhock) (三つ葉葵)

Mitsuba-aoi is a type of aoi-mon (mallow patterns), which have been used as Japanese family crests. The term "Mitsuba-aoi," in many cases, refers to the crest design of the "Maru ni Mitsuba-aoi" (three leaves of hollyhock in a circle), which indicates the Tokugawa clan.


Aoi-mon is designed in the motif of a futaba-aoi (two-leaf mallow), which belongs to Aristolochiaceae. As its name suggests, the futaba-aoi generally has two leaves. A three-leafed futaba-aoi is rare, and therefore the Mitsuba-aoi is an imaginary plant. As seen in the Aoi-matsuri Festival (Hollyhock Flower Festival), the aoi-mon symbolizes the Kamo clan and has been used as the Kamo-jinja Shrine crest (two leaves of hollyhock or Kamo Aoi).

Bushidan (warrior bands) in Mikawa Province, which had close links with the Kamo clan, used the aoi-mon as their family crests. This fact supports the view that the use of the aoi-mon by the Tokugawa family, particularly by a warrior in Mikawa, means that the family may be a descendant of the Kamo clan instead of the Seiwa-Genji (Minamoto clan).

Initially, the aoi-mon was not a special crest, but other families gradually started to avoid using the aoi-mon, including the Mitsuba-aoi, when the Tokugawa family became the Seii Taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians") and established the Tokugawa shogunate. The Tokugawa clan had the Matsudaira clan refrain from using the aoi-mon and prohibited the Ina clan from using it. Subsequently, the Tokugawa family monopolized the aoi-mon, but permission to use the aoi-mon was occasionally given to some clans such as the Honda clan, a Tokugawa retainer, and the Ikeda clan of Tottori Domain, a jun kamon (quasi-lineage) of the Tokugawa family.

The Imperial Family tried to give Kiri-mon (paulownia patterns) to the Tokugawa family in order to follow the precedent of the Ashikaga clan, Nobunaga ODA and Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, but the Tokugawa family refused to receive it. As a result, it is said that the prestige of the aoi-mon was dramatically enhanced.


It is also called Mitsu-aoi. In addition to its design with a circular outline, Mitsuba-aoi includes designs with angular outlines (Moriyama Mitsu-aoi, Saijo Mitsu-aoi, etc.) and gokan (五環) (five aoi-mon arranged in a circular pattern).

The Tokugawa family and Tokugawa gosanke (three privileged branches of the Tokugawa families of Owari, Kishu and Mito) had similar Maru ni Mitsuba-aoi (Mitsuba-aoi in a circle), or the so-called Tokugawa Aoi (the hollyhock trefoil coat of arms of the Tokugawa clan). Each gosanke had a different Tokugawa Aoi, the leaf stripe patterns of which were distinct. Even in the same Tokugawa shogun family, the Tokugawa Aoi of the family up to the third generation had 33 stripes per leaf, which were gradually reduced to 13 per leaf in the Yoshinobu era. Tsunayoshi TOKUGAWA and Yoshimune TOKUGAWA used a leaf that was similar in design to the nuphar leaf patterns used for the Aizu-aoi. There are many variations, such as crests using the undersides of leaves (Maru ni Mitsuura-aoi [undersides of three leaves in a circle]). However, in many cases the Matsudaira family, a member of the Tokugawa clan, used Tsuta-mon (ivy patterns), Kiri-mon (paulownia patterns), or Touchiwa (fan), among others, which were used as a kae-mon (alternate personal crest).


There are various stories about the origin of the Mitsuba-aoi, as shown below:

"Kaisei Mikawago Fudoki" (Foundation of the Tokugawa Clan), by Motonao NARUSHIMA, states:
The Mitsuba-aoi was presented by the Honda Nakatsukasa no taifu (Senior Assistant Minister of the Ministry of Central Affairs) family, which was a lineage of Tadakatsu HONDA. Originally, the Honda family used the aoi-mon because its founder served at Kamo-jinja Shrine.

Kaisei Mikawago Fudoki was completed by Motonao NARUSHIMA, a Confucian scholar of the shogunate in the Tenpo era, through his proofreading of its original, "Mikawago Fudoki" (The Topographical Records of Mikawa Province) (by Kazue Chikayoshi HIRAIWA [平岩主計親吉] from the Kanei era to the Seiho era), which was completed in the early Edo period. This history book contains various stories but indicates there is uncertainty about which story is true. Mikawago Fudoki, a much older history book, states that the Mitsuba-aoi originated with the Sakai clan.

Aoi no Gomon Raiyu (the origin of the Tokugawa family crest) in "Ryuei Hikan," "Mikawago Fudoki" and "Kaisei Mikawago Fudoki" state:
In July 1475 (or July 1479), during the Battle of Anjo, Choemon no jo Ujitada SAKAI placed three hollyhock leaves on a round tray and made Nobumitsu, the third head of the Matsudaira family, a present of the leaves with noshi (a thin strip of dried abalone wrapped in folded red-and-white paper), kachiguri (victory chestnut) and konbu (seaweed) on them. Although Sakai was told to use the three hollyhock leaves for his family crest if they won the battle, in the time of Nagachika, the fifth head of the Matsudaira family, the Matsudaira family decided to use the Mitsuba-aoi as the family crest while the Sakai family was granted a yellow sorrel crest similar to the Mitsuba-aoi. It is also said that this happened in the Ieyasu era.

The article concerning the Ina-Honda clan in "Hankanpu" (Genealogy of the Protectors of the Shogunate) (by Hakuseki ARAI) states:
(This is also cited in Kaisei Mikawago Fudoki.)
In Kiyoyasu's day, the seventh head of the Matsudaira clan, Tadamasa HONDA in Ina, Hoi County, supported Kiyoyasu when he attacked Yoshida-jo Castle and Tahara. When Tadamasa welcomed Kiyoyasu's triumphal return to Ina, entertained him with food and drink, and served him a side dish on three hollyhock leaves, Kiyoyasu was pleased and said, "Thanks to your support, I achieved victory in this battle." "I knew that the Mitsu-aoi is your family crest, but according to the festive custom, present it to me." For that reason, the crest on the portrait of Kiyosasu in the Okazaki Zuinen-ji Temple is the Mitsu-aoi.

There is another story that the aoi-mon was the former crest of the Nitta clan and was used without change. There are various views regarding its origin.

The Okazaki City History explains the origin of the aoi-mon as follows:
The aoi-mon was originally the family crest of Tarozaemon MATSUDAIRA. Or, after Yasuchika and Chikauji MATSUDAIRA entered Matsudaira Village they worshiped at Kamo-myojin Shrine to pray and then started to use the aoi-mon as his family crest. It is also said that the Matsudaira clan used it, calling themselves Kamo-Genji (Minamoto clan) or KAMO no Asomi.

* The Kamo County, where Matsudaira-go, Kamo County in Mikawa Province, was located, was Shingun (shrine territory) for Kamo-jinja Shrine, and the Matsudaira clan in Matsudaira-go originally used the aoi-mon, the Kamo-jinja Shrine crest, as its own family crest. The mountainous Oku-mikawa area in Mikawa Province has many place names with "Kamo," such as Kamo-go in Kamo County, Kamo-go in Hoi County and Kamo-go in Shitara County. For that reason, many local clans in Mikawa, such as the Matsudaira clan, the Sakai clan and the Honda clan, used the aoi-mon as their family crests.

Various views on the origin are described in "Nihon Kamon Soran" (Complete Guide to Family Crests in Japan).
The following are among the views on the possible origin of the aoi-mon in Nihon Kamon Soran:

It originated with the Sakai clan.

It was exchanged with the Honda clan.

It was invented by Ieyasu himself.

The crest of the Matsudaira clan was taken over after succession to the clan.

Variations of Mitsuba-aoi

Aizu-aoi or Aizu Mitsuba-aoi (trefoil hollyhock of Aizu) is one variation of the Mitsuba-aoi. It is the crest of the Aizu-Matsudaira family.

In terms of the design, the Aizu-aoi is nearly the same as the Mitsuba-aoi of the Tokugawa family, but its three leaves are not the futaba-aoi leaves (mallow leaves) used in the original. Because these leaves look like nuphar leaves and are similar to the futaba-aoi leaves, some scholars view the Aizu-aoi precisely as Kohone-mon (nuphar patterns) instead of the aoi-mon.

[Original Japanese]