The meaning and origins of the design on your Japanese Marriage Certificate.

What do the symbols and designs around the border signify?

Among many Chinese traditions that have been introduced to Japan, it is said that “the origin of certificates” was introduced by China. The symbol of “Chinese Phoenixes” were used on ornamental frames for official letters and honorable mentions for personnel announcement documents and medals issued within the Emperor’s palace. The symbol of “paulownia trees” were used on religious documents used at official events held within the palace of the Japanese emperor. It seems that the design of the modern-day certificate paper came from combining these two symbols. The modern-day certificates were used only for some of the official events held within the Japanese palace. They became the official paper used for formal events after Meiji era, and have gradually started to be used by the general public.

There are 3 components that structure the design of the periphery of the certificate paper (frame).

(1) A “Dragon Cloud” in cloud form that is placed in the upper middle part

Dragon Cloud

(2) A pair of “Chinese Phoenixes” that is placed on both sides of the Dragon Cloud

Chinese Phenixes

(3) “Paulownia Trees” that extends from the bottom all the way up to the Chinese Phoenixes on both sides

Paulownia Trees

Why the Chinese Phoenixes?

“Chinese Phoenix,” an auspicious imaginary bird that were believed to appear as a sign of imperial virtue, is one of the Four Beginnings (dragon, tortoise, qilin, phoenix) that were believed to be extremely sacred and congratulatory, and were used in imperial events in ancient times to modern-day China. It is said that the conjugal relationship of a pair of Chinese Phoenixes is very well and they will accompany each other for their lifetime. The male is called “Hou (鳳)” and female “ou (凰),” and the two are combined to form the word “Phoenix (鳳凰).” On the certificate paper, the female is placed on the left side and the male is placed on the right side, and are facing each other.

Chinese Phoenix

Why A Dragon Cloud?

The term “Dragon-Cloud” is originally used to describe a set of clouds and a dragon, but could also indicate the lucky cloud that brings rain along with the dragon that is one of the Four Beginnings like Phoenixes.

Why Paulownia Trees?

“Paulownia Trees” have been thought to be “auspicious trees that the phoenixes dwell” since ancient times in their country of origin, China. It is also told that “phoenixes wake up to the light reflection off the leaves of paulownia trees that bathed in sunlight.” Because of their white-colored tree trunks and having little warp from elasticity and cracking, as well as having low moisture absorption ability, they were introduced to Japan as a sacred and auspicious plant. It became the crest of the Imperial Household along with chrysanthemum, and started to be used on religious documents (written covenant to the gods).

Paulownia Trees

David Higgins is a full time Japanese/English translation company owner located in Okinawa, Japan. David, his wife Hazuki and four employees and various freelancers of other languages run Okinawa Translator. They specialize in translation of all kinds of documents, technical manuals and on site interpreting for instructional safety classes with the military to family reunions. They have expanded their business all over Japan and overseas to serve customers in any location.

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