The Future Envisioned by the Family Inherited a Chochin Store With 130 Years History [Kadota Chochin]

The Future Envisioned by the Family Inherited a Chochin Store With 130 Years History [Kadota Chochin]

We will thoroughly make lanterns that people think are cool.”

Akihiro Kadota, the fourth generation owner of Kadota Chochin Store, says, My predecessors taught me that "it is more important to write cool letters than to draw them correctlyand I still value that today. The craftsman who continues to make Japanese paper lanterns at this long-established store, which has been in business for 130 years in Fukuoka City, has a firm commitment that he has acquired through years of training.

For this interview, we had the opportunity to talk to the family who are carrying on the tradition of the chochin store. Please take a look at their thoughts and commitment to the traditional craft of chochin craftsmanship, a craft that is the pride of Japan.

Careers of Two Craftsmen

Q.Could you tell us about your careers?

(Akihiro Kadota, 4th generation)

I have been in this industry since I was 22 years old, and I have exactly 40 years of experience. In the area where I live, it was commonplace for men from families involved in traditional industries to take over the family business. When I was young, I liked cars, and when I was in college, I wanted to do something else, and there were times when I thought I wanna try other things, but now that I have taken over as the fourth generation, I feel that I have been very fulfilled in my work.

(Kotaro Kadota, 5th generation)

I started working as chochin craftsman after graduating from college, and I have been in this industry since I was 23 years old. Since I started in this industry, I have mainly helped and supported the 4th generation and other craftsmen, but gradually became involved in full-scale chochin making.

Hard things and Difficulties up to now

Q.Your family is carrying on the Chochin store! Have there been any hard things in making paper lanterns over the years?

Actually, it was a couple of years ago that We seriously considered closing this store.This was because of the coronavirus pandemic and a sharp drop in orders, which was really hard thing to us.

Many of our customers were Japanese-style pubs(izakaya) and restaurants, but because of the corona outbreak, restaurants and bars refrained from business, and the number of orders decreased. Chochin were also used for summer festivals and Obon, a traditional Japanese event, but no summer festivals were held and orders for Obon lanterns disappeared during the Corona period to avoid interaction with people. We were thinking of closing the store if the effects of Corona continued for another year, and we were really suffering.

Now the number of orders is gradually recovering, but at the time I was filled with the desire to somehow connect our 130-year tradition to the next generation. Compared to the Corona period, our performance has recovered, but it is still not as good as it was before the Corona pandemic.

Q.Even though the corona has subsided, you haven't completely recovered... What are the factors?

One of the factors is that people's behavior patterns are changing with the times, I suppose. I feel that izakaya are not as crowded as they used to be due to the spread of remote work, young people cutting back on drinking and not participating in company drinking parties. In the past, Japanese people tended to value communication with others, but perhaps this is becoming a bit diluted now.

Since there is no point in lamenting the passing of the times, I would like to deliver chochin to our customers in a way that is appropriate for the current era. For example, chochin used to be something with a “Japanesque” feel, but we continue to search for new forms of chochin, such as making Christmas-specific chochin or using vinyl instead of Japanese paper for a new presentation.

In addition to preserving tradition, we will continue to flexibly take on challenges so that we can create products that are in demand by today's customers. I would like to deliver handmade chochin to many people, not only in Japan but also to customer all over the world.

Job worthwhile and pleasure as Craftsman

Q.You are changing with the times while preserving tradition. What is the most rewarding aspect of making chochin?

It makes me happy when customers are pleased with the lanterns we put our heart and soul into making, or when we see them displayed in stores or on the streets, blending in with the cityscape. Especially in this area (Hakata area), the culture of festivals is closely connected to daily life, and it makes me proud to see that lanterns are valued as an item to enliven the festivities.

Q.As a craftsman, it makes you happy to know that they are valued! What does the festival mean to the people of the town?

(Participants in the Yamakasa Festival)

Many people in our community see festivals as life. Some people quit their jobs to live a festival-centered life, or move to neighboring areas to focus on festivals.

In fact, I have been wearing the Yamakasa Festival cloth (happi) since I was 0 years old, and the festival has been imprinted in my daily life since before I can remember. When I participate in the festival practice, everyone is very enthusiastic and full of the spirit to make the festival a good one. Since lanterns are one of the items that make such a passionate festival, we have devoted our lives to making lanterns with all our might.

Q.Festival is life itself! There is a different liveliness when beautiful lanterns are present at festivals.

As an actual participant in the festival myself, I have made the lanterns with a sense of being a participant. Because of that, I can never make an uncool lantern. Everyone puts their lives into the festival, so I too was trying to make the festival the best it could be with cool lanterns. When I was actually able to make a lantern that I was satisfied with, the people in town would say, “That's so cool,” or “It's amazing that you can make a lantern like that!” I feel very happy and rewarded when people on the street say.

Q.It is nice to be praised by the people of the city! Are there any other occasions when you receive compliments?

Recently, we have received comments on our Instagram posts and messages via DM, which makes us very happy. Since our store is located in a shopping arcade, we have had an increasing number of cases where tourists from overseas who pass by our store recognize us and contact us via Instagram. We update it regularly, so please feel free to comment and follow.

*Kadota Chochin Store Instagram account

Craftsman's commitment

Q.What are your commitment in making chochin?

First of all, I am particular about making chochin that I am satisfied with. I think that if I don't exceed the standards I set for myself, I will not be able to deliver excitement to my customers. For this reason, I am conscious of the thickness of the fabric and the application of the washi paper, and I am very careful in each step of the process to ensure that the finished product is cool. As a chochin craftsman, I never compromise on the smallest details, and I put all my effort into each and every chochin.

My father always told me “to write coolly”.

Therefore, rather than just writing the letters correctly, I have always made sure to “make lanterns that I think look cool”. This is because, from the customer's point of view, it is far more important to make them feel “cool” or “feel something uplifting” when they see the lanterns than to make sure the characters are written according to a manual. This point requires a sense of beauty and experience as a craftsman, so there is no correct answer, but I always ask myself this question when making the chochin.

Incidentally, the surface of a chochin is actually not flat but bumpy, so it is difficult to write letters on it. Simply writing letters on the surface makes the lanterns look somewhat boring. I have been involved in chochin making for 40 years, and I will never compromise on making cool chochin.

What are your future challenges?

Q.What new challenges do you want to take on in the future?

We would like to deliver chochin to all over the world customers through our online store. Up until now, we have been selling in stores and doing business with existing customers, and we have not focused that much on online sales. However, we are gradually receiving more and more orders from overseas customers, and we feel that we are being sought after by people outside of Japan. In fact, we have received orders from restaurants in the U.S. and France, as well as restaurant chains in Asia, for chochin to decorate their stores, and we have received comments of satisfaction so far.

We are proud to say that the chochin we make are among the highest quality in Japan, as each one is handmade and meticulously crafted down to the smallest detail. We can make various types of chochin, including those for display in stores, at home, or as gifts for friends, etc. We can also make chochin that are not listed on our online store, so please contact us through contact form in that case.

For customers who use Kadota Chochin Store products

Q.Please give a message to customers!

We carefully make each and every one of our chochin by hand to please our customers. We hope you enjoy the atmosphere that our chochin create. It is good to light them and hang them on the wall, or put candles on them and display them on the table. We hope you will use it carefully for a long time, as we put a lot of thought into making it.

Chochin Making Video