I started this entry last week while procrastinating. I have for several weeks now found the arms of the ordinary of Yokohama to be quite interesting, and set out to translate the explanation of the imagery given in Japanese. Unfortunately, I’m not yet skilled enough to follow through. Instead, I started digging around the CBCJ site and looking at the other arms. Here are the arms of Bishop Umemura of Yokohama (my local diocese, suffragan of Tokyo).
Anyone who has seen a few “coats of arms” (which shouldn’t be uncommon even for Japanese) would immediately recognise the, er, contemporary style at play here. I thought this was just a one-off, until Fr Selvester over at Shouts in the Piazza (a magnificent blog focussing on ecclesiastical heraldry) posted the Arms of now-retired Joseph Cardinal Zen Ze-kiun SDB, Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong.
Now these two are a little wacky, but they’re alright given the context. Asia’s heritage of identifying marks is completely different to the history of arms in Europe, so these shields may well strike them as nothing more than a frivolous formality with no local meaning. Despite the off-centre charges, irregularly shaped shields, and seemingly meaningless symbols, they at least contain ecclesiastically relevant symbolism and mottoes.
If only I’d left it there.
I had the brainwave of looking at the page for every Japanese diocese in the Japanese pages where the arms appear, rather than the markedly sparse English pages. Here are some of the things I found:
Episcopal arms now double as colourful catechetical aids. That last one includes a map of Hokkaido, one of the four primary islands of Japan. It is a prefecture in its own right (Japan’s largest) as well as being an entire diocese (akin to, say, Alaska).
This strikes me as the worst of the 20th century’s frightening modern “art”. There is nothing at all in this Warhol poster that looks like an armorial achievement, except for the Latin. Still, these are the worst of it. There are some quite pleasing arms to see as well, especially ones that baptise typically Asian (and probably heathen) imagery to Christian use.
That’s enough for now I think. I have blatantly stolen the images of every bishop’s arms from the Japanese site and uploaded them to my own Flickr account (accessible from the left sidebar). They are in their own album, “Japanese Arms”. Do look at the rest – some are quite traditional, though I haven’t seen a single one that looks “typical”. The two you see here both contain the galero, episcopal cross and a proper shield, and yet contain distinctly Eastern elements (a lotus flower, for instance) which are clearly novel in Christian art.