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A tomoe (巴, "hoping", "wishing"; also written 鞆絵, ともえ), or tomowe (ともゑ) in its archaic form, is a Japanese symbol described as a swirl that resembles a comma or the usual form of a magatama.

The tomoe appears in many designs with various uses. In its simplest, most common patterns, simply containing one to four tomoe, are reminiscent of other patterns that can be found worldwide, especially in areas close to Japan. When circumscribed in a circle, it often appears in a set of three, with this design known as the mitsudomoe (三つ巴).


Theories of its originEdit

The origin of the tomoe is uncertain. Some think that its name originally meant tomoe (鞆絵), or drawings on tomo (), a round arm protector used by an archer, whereas others see it as a stylized magatama.[1]

Symbolism and usesEdit

The tomoe is a common design element in Japanese family emblems (家紋, kamon) and corporate logos, particularly in the set of triplicate whorls known as mitsudomoe.

Some view the mitsudomoe as representative of the threefold division (Man, Earth, and Sky) at the heart of the Shinto religion. It was also associated with the Shinto war deity Hachiman, and through that was adopted by the samurai as their traditional symbol.

One mitsudomoe variant, the Hidari Gomon, is the traditional symbol of the Ryūkyū Kingdom. The Koyasan Shingon sect of Buddhism uses the Hidari Gomon as a visual representation of the cycle of life.

Similar designsEdit

The two-fold tomoe is almost identical in its design elements to the Chinese symbol known as a taijitu, while the three-fold tomoe is very similar to the Korean tricolored taegeuk. Also note that the negative space in between the swirls of a fourfold tomoe forms a swastika-like shape, which is fairly prominent in many Eurasian religions such as ancient Indo-European religions and later Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.


See alsoEdit

  • Gankyil, a symbol in Tibetan and East Asian Buddhism composed of three swirling and interconnected blades
  • Lauburu, the Basque cross
  • Mon (emblem)
  • Taegeuk
  • Taijitu
  • Triskelion, a widely used, ancient, triple-branched design based on either interlocking spirals or three bent human legs
  • Gogok, a comma-shaped jewel found in the Korean Peninsula
  • Pig dragon or zhūlóng, a zoomorphic stone artifact produced in neolithic China with a C- or comma-like shape


  1. ^ Honda, Sōichirō (2008). Nihon no Kamon Taizen. Tokyo: Togo Shoin. ISBN 978-4-340-03102-3. 

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