Chochin: Traditional Japanese Lantern Inherit Spirits and Culture

What is a Chochin?

A chochin is a type of lighting fixture in which Japanese paper is attached to a framework made of elastic bamboo, and a light source such as a candle or light bulb is installed at the bottom. Many types can be folded, making them easy to store and carry. They have been used in Japan since ancient times and can be seen in various scenes even today. For example, the author lives in Japan, sees chochin in the following situations.

  • Izakaya (Japanese style pubs) and Japanese style restaurants
  • Traditional events at shrines and temples
  • Traditional events such as Obon and New Year's festivals
  • Summer and fireworks festivals
  • Wedding and funeral ceremonies
  • Japanese-style hotels
  • Interior design at home

If you have ever traveled to Japan, you may recognize red lanterns when you walk downtown and see izakaya . You may also see chochin decorating shrines and temples, and some of your Japanese friends may have them as interior decorations when they invite you to their homes. Although chochin are deeply integrated into daily life in Japan, they were originally used for funerals and as tools to welcome the spirits of ancestors during the Obon festival.

Incidentally, the word "chochin" is a combination of two words: Cho (提) - Chin (灯), where Cho means "to hold in the hand" and Chin means "lamp”. The name "chochin" came about because people carried lanterns in their hands or hung them on the porch of their houses.

History of Chochin

The history of chochin in Japan dates back to the Muromachi period (1333-1573), when they were introduced from China. In the beginning, they were not foldable like today's lanterns, but simple ones made of bamboo boxes covered with Japanese paper. Later, they were improved by the Japanese, and by the end of the Muromachi period (1333-1573), they took the form of folding lanterns. Emaki (picture scrolls) of the time depict a member of a funeral procession hanging a chochin, indicating that it served as a Buddhist altar fixture. Before the Edo period, chochin were used for ceremonial purposes by the upper classes, but after the Edo period, mass production of candles became possible and chochin became inexpensive, and they began to spread to the general public. Later, chochin were produced all over Japan, and the chochin culture developed. Until the early Showa period (1926-1989), when streetlights became commonplace as they are today, flashlights were also expensive, and so chochin were used.

What is the Difference between Red and White Chochin?

You have probably seen various types of chochin. Especially in Japan, you may have seen red and white chochin. Each color of these chochin has a different scene of use and purpose.

Red Chochin

Red Chochin - Nagasaki Lantern Festival

Red chochin are basically found in izakaya, downtown areas, festivals, and commercial establishments. Although white chochin were commonly used until the Edo period (1603-1867), it is said that one store started using red chochin and business began to flourish, which is why red chochin have a meaning of business prosperity. Today, red chochin have a strong image in the Japanese izakaya market, as they are sometimes referred to as "red chochin = izakaya. The red color is said to stimulate appetite, which is actually a reasonable aspect.

White Chochin

White Obon Chochin

White chochin are often used at sacred places and various ceremonial occasions such as Obon(summer events in Japan) and shrines. In particular, many Japanese people use white chochin during Obon, decorating them so that the spirits of deceased relatives can return home without lost way. The white color creates a sacred atmosphere and makes people feel relaxed.

Obon: A summer event in Japan to welcome the spirits of ancestors

What is a Chochin Obake?

Chochin Obake
Chochin Obake

The Chochin obake is a type of Japanese yokai that looks like a lantern with eyes and a mouth that is split at the top and bottom. Although it is a well-known yokai, there are not many specific traditions about it. In Yamagata Prefecture, Japan, it is said that the Chochin obake used to appear at shrines with old lanterns, startling people, but when the old lanterns were offered as offerings, the Chochin obakes stopped appearing. It has been handed down from generation to generation that it is important not to leave things as they are just because they have become old, but to carefully offer them up as offerings.

Where are famous production areas in Japan?

The most famous production areas for chochin in Japan are Yame City in Fukuoka Prefecture and Gifu City in Gifu Prefecture. Both of these cities produce high-quality bamboo and paper, and both have in common that they have been recognized as traditional crafts by the Japanese government. Although these two production areas have many points in common, there are some differences in their history and characteristics.

Yame Chochin

Yame chochin originated in the early 19th century, when simple and easily painted lanterns began to be made. Yame chochin are characterized by their bamboo strips called Ichijo spiral style and Japanese paper with beautifully colored paintings. Yame chochin are also characterized by their translucent interior, and were popularly called "Suzumi Chochin”. The production of these elegant chochin expanded to the point where Yame chochin became the largest in Japan, and they were supplied to Japan and other countries as well.

Gifu Chochin

Gifu chochin are said to have originated in the middle of the 18th century, due to the abundance of bamboo and Japanese paper produced in the Gifu area. Gifu chochin are characterized by their designs of the seven autumnal flowers, flowers and birds, and landscapes made from high-quality washi paper and bamboo produced in the Mino region. The raw material, washi paper, is famous for its thinness and durability, and the bamboo is thin and its style is characterized by its elegant and neat appearance.

Online Store Selling Chochin Lantern

Chochin lantern are available at the Tatsujin Style online store. It can be used for a variety of purposes, such as for promotion in front of restaurants and eateries, or for display at home to enjoy its quaintness. Please take a look at the chochin lanterns that symbolize Japaneseness. This online store offers a service to customize the names on the lanterns as a Japanese-style gift. For example, the kanji character “和都尊” in the image above is a Japanese translation of the name “Watson". This is a gift that your Japan-loving friend will surely be pleased to receive!

See More Product Information