This symbol is ubiquitous on Buddhist and Shinto temples all over Japan. Its name is tomoe, meaning turning or circular, referring to the motion of the earth. The tomoe is related to the yin yang symbol, and has a similar meaning, representing the play of forces in the cosmos. Visually, the tomoe is made up of interlocked flames (or magatama) resembling tadpoles.
The most common tomoe emblem has three flames (triple, or ‘mitsu’ tomoe), but one, two, or four are not uncommon. A mitsu- tomoe reflects the threefold division of Shinto cosmology, and is said to represent the earth, the heavens, and humankind. It is often associated with the Shinto war deity Hachiman.
A tomoe-mon is a tomoe used as a kamon, or family crest, a device similar to a coat of arms.