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The Triforce. Many Zelda fans have long pondered the origins of this strange symbol. Until now. This is the saga of the symbol we now call the Triforce…

Beginnings

Samurai

The saga begins in Medieval Japan. Or more specifically, the Kamakura Period. The political situation in Medieval Japan was rather chaotic, as various ruling families jockeyed for power. In such a situation, the warrior was a very important part of society. In this case, the samurai. We must remember that the samurai were not quite what most people tend to think of them today (for instance, as being death machines superior to their equivalents in other parts of the world), but they were indeed skilled with the blade. But when samurai clashed on the battlefield, how would they know who was fighting on which side? The mon.

What’s a “mon?” Quite simply, it’s the family crest. It’s not unlike the heraldry that the European knights had, although the Japanese mon were generally much simpler and aesthetically cleaner in design. The mon was used to identify the samurai’s possessions (for instance, take a look at the markings on the clothing in the image above). Of course, perhaps the most important place for the mon was a flag to be carried into battle.

As it turns out, the design that we know as the triforce was actually the crest of the Hojo family. The Hojo family was a prominent family in Medieval Japan, and actually took over the country in the 13th century, bringing about relative peace and prosperity. But then, a dark shadow crept over the land . . .

The Mongols. The Mongols had the greatest army in the world. They captured vast amounts of territory, sweeping from China and Russia all the way through the Middle East and even into Central Europe. When the Mongols conquered China, they turned their eyes to the east-Japan. If it was not for Hurricane Kamikaze, there is little doubt that the Mongols would have won. But in any event, it would fall into the hands of the Hojo family to lead Japan’s defense against the Mongol invasion. This was their day for glory.

The Hojo family, then, was a very important family in the history of Japan. It is only natural then, that their crest would achieve special prominence too. But the question remains: why did the Hojo family use those three triangles? The answer is . . .

. . . Shintoism, a religion still very prevalent in Japan today. The Hojo family crest has the shape that it does because of the family dragon god, the guardian deity of fishermen. According to legend, Tokimasa Hojo (1138-1215) came into a cave on Enoshima, an island south of modern Tokyo. There he prayed that his descendants would be prosperous. And the dragon god, who dwelt in that cave-and there is a statue of the dragon in the cave today-granted him his wish, leaving behind 3 of his scales. These are the scales that are represented in the three triangles of the “Triforce” of the Hojo.

Towards the Present

And so the Hojo family made their mark on Japanese history. In turn, their family crest became ingrained into the Japanese culture. And thus, we find later crests that are based off of the original dragon-scale crest, as you can see below.

Triforce

Image from Tsumao, Awasaka, Kamon no hanashi uwaeshi ga kataru monsho no bi, Tokyo: Shinchosha, 1997.

And the dragon-scale crest (and by the way, it’s also associated with fish scales) continued beyond even that. A 19th century publisher’s seal applied to Ukiyo-e paintings, for instance, consisted of the three triangles inscribed in a circle. Even today, the “Triforce” appears all over Japanese society. You find it on everything from company logos to souvenirs. And it comes as no surprise, since the aesthetically beautiful symbols of the samurai have found their place in modern Japanese graphic design. These symbols are, in fact, meaningful even to the Japanese in their modern context.

Conclusion

And so we can trace the history of the Triforce symbol from three dragon scales to the symbol of a mighty family to the motif in Japanese graphic design to the Zelda games themselves.. But does this really have any significance for the Zelda games? Check back next week to find out . . .

If you’d like to take a look at the Dragon-scale mon on a temple from the Kamakura region (linking it to the Hojo family, of course!), click here. And while you’re at it, can you spot the symbol in this picture?

______________________________________________________

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This retro article was originally posted November 4th, 2003.
Related Topics
  • Servant

    Since LoZ is generally in a European/Western setting, that and the Triforce is a simple geomectric shape (easily adaptible to any culture's artwork), it's easey to overlook its Japanese origins. Thanks for the article man.

  • Lisa

    Very interesting! I've been a Zelda fan for almost 20 years, and have always wondered if the Triforce design meant something or was just something the game designers made up. Thanks for posting this!

  • Endre

    If you look you can see Triforces in lots of places! I saw one in a roof earlier.

  • Joko tree

    "And the dragon god, who dwelt in that cave-and there is a statue of the dragon in the cave today-granted him his wish, leaving behind 3 of his scales." Wow thats probably where Nintendo got the Golden Godesses idea and the powers of the Triforce. Also dragon god dwelling in a cave could have been the first boss idea and the cave thing might have been changed because a dungen just sounds darker and more mysterious than a cave.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Thareous Thareous

    The design of three triangles forming a single one (plus the upside down triangle in the center) has always bemused me, and I'm glad to see its origin finally explained. Great article, Trahald!

  • ZoraMikau

    Are you a new writer? I must say, you aren't to bad.

    Great article. I've saw that picture when searching "triforce" on google images, and I've always wondered what it is.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Thareous Thareous

      At the very bottom of the article there's a disclaimer that says it was written in 2003, so the author might have resigned.

      • ZoraMikau

        Oooohhhhh………whoops.

  • ChainofTermina

    this is neat. I wonder what Miyamoto's family crest is.

    you know there's a construction company called Delta that uses that symbol. I saw it on a saw machine in my High School's woodshop class. freaked the hell out of me.

    • http://mytriforce.deviantart.com/ Ezlo

      Yeah, I've seen it on large machinery in my school's woodshop as well. I was doodling it in class one time and my teacher asked me, "is that the Delta symbol?" and I was like "NO! IT'S THE TRIFORCE!"

      This was her expression: 0.0

  • ibrahim

    WOW

  • Nar

    I found it in Naruto once….

    • lol

      which episode

    • QueenxLink

      u found the Triforce in Naruto? I love that show… haha

      • Greeny

        plagiarism…

  • ILiekZelda

    That dragon that gave the three scales….. Volvagia???Argorok???Some other dragon boss???

  • TrustMe101

    Wait a second…. Didn't Miyamoto (don't know if I spelled that right) say that he got the idea of The Legend of Zelda when he was exploring a cave or something? Or am I mistaken? But that would make sense because the crest represented the dragon god that lived in a cave…

    • Blizzeta93

      isn't the very first boss in the original a dragon creature?

      • Eddy

        if so, that's ironic since the dragon was supposed to be the benefactor of the Hojo family. Here's something interesting: in the Bible, the dragon represents Satan.

        "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him." Revelation 12:9

  • jordanteixeira

    Great article man! Now i know how he may have gotten the idea. Anyway the Hojo family sounds like a group of great leaders if they created the triforce.

    • Joko tree

      He might have been a member of the Hojo family.

  • The 12 year old

    Huh… I knew that the triforce was based of of a historical symbol, but I never Knew it was that important.

  • Ashmic

    We do have to take into consideration that this game is infuenced by realworld sources I.E the tower of babel theory, the islamic signs and changing,
    ETC.
    so this is very possible

    • Ashmic

      *chanting

      • Eddy

        Interesting

  • BlackRoseLink

    Yeah. The scales were from the head, the arm, and the breast, where the developers and Miyamoto-san got the representation for Power(Arm), Wisdom(Head), and Courage(Breast), which is why, originally, the triforce was blue on top, green on left, and blue on right.

    • BlackRoseLink

      Erm, RED on right. Sorry for the typo ^_^

  • Naokohiro

    I didn't expect to see an article like this here.
    Good job! ^.^

  • Guil.

    Also the holy trinity is known in other religions as well not just Christianity and therefore a strong candidate for the origin of the symbol. Three seems to bee an important number in many cultures around the world.

  • RydAma

    Good article

  • http://mytriforce.deviantart.com/ Ezlo

    ^ this

    • Joko tree

      Product design is the English version of woodshop.

  • QueenxLink

    Sweeeeeet article! I always like reading about things from Japan and ZELDA! :D

  • linkpwns13

    In all my faithfulness to the Zelda series, I've never seen this before! Nice work!

  • partyboy3543

    Cool, I never would have guest that (0_o) great job!!

  • Eddy

    I've wondered if the triforce had any links to the occult or anything of the sort. I know that the triangle is prominent in that context (e.g. the all-seeing eye in the middle of a triangle)

  • Scott Walker

    I thought it was from that Austrian skiiing company! Just kidding

  • Woll

    "According to legend, Tokimasa Hojo (1138-1215) came into a cave on Enoshima, an island south of modern Tokyo. There he prayed that his descendants would be prosperous. And the dragon god, who dwelt in that cave-and there is a statue of the dragon in the cave today-granted him his wish, leaving behind 3 of his scales."

    >"There he prayed that his descendants would be prosperous."

    Most of Zelda's story lines are based around the concept of descendants of past heroes, royalty and evil.

    The hero's descendants shall protect, evil's descendants shall display and spread evil and royalty's descendants and the land they rule shall be the target of said evil. It's a story as old as time, guarding spirits, evil demons and the world (i.e. princess Zelda and the land of Hyrule.)

    • Joko tree

      Just one thing not all Links are related or are they.

      • Woll

        Descendants can mean by blood or by spirit, especially in legend based stories.

  • http://www.4shared.com/document/-vNVZeGe/Fruit_Carving_-_A_Step-by-step.html fruit carving classes

    Glorious article. Ive saved it witout a doubt.

  • Gerudude

    Welll…….where I come from, it is a custom for the birthday boy to hand out some stuff to his guests and so. You know…you receive at your birthday…and you give a little.
    So…how 'bout some info regarding a new Zelda title…just because it's your birthday.

    Happy Birthday mr Miyamoto.