Gifu Chochin with a 300-year tradition | Traditional crafts in Gifu

Chochin in Gifu
Source: Jishichi

Traditional crafts from the hometown of Oda Nobunaga, a central figure in Japanese history 

Gifu Prefecture is a very famous land for Japanese history. This is because it is the land where Nobunaga Oda, one of the most famous historical figures, was born and raised. Gifu Prefecture is close to Kyoto, which has flourished since the Heian period (794-1192), and commerce has flourished in Gifu since ancient times under the rule of the Oda family. This has led to the development of traditional crafts. A representative example is the “Seki kitchen knife” introduced previously. Please refer to the article to know about Seki Knife. In this article, we will discuss other traditional crafts.

Gifu chochin

Gifu chochin are a traditional handicraft
produced in Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture. Gifu chochin are mainly displayed
during the Bon Festival, and come in two forms: the hanging “Gosho
chochin” and the stationary “Ouchi Andon”. Gifu chochin are
characterized by their delicate and elegant fire pockets decorated with autumn
grasses and landscapes made mainly from the abundant bamboo of the Mino region
and thin, high-quality Mino washi paper.

The shapes are either oval or round. The
shape is neat and elegant, the workmanship is elaborate, and the fire pouch is
decorated with elegant and beautifully colored pictures. The thin bamboo strips
that form the framework are extremely thin, and the paper is painted with
pictures of flowers, birds, landscapes, and figures. In recent years, Ouchi
Andon have been attracting attention both in Japan and abroad not only for
their traditional use, but also for their use as modern Japanese interior

Chochin in Gifu
Source: Jishichi

Historical Background

There are several theories as to the origin
of Gifu lanterns, but according to “Gifu Shiryaku Gifu Shiryaku”
written by Kanji Nagase and published in 1885 (Meiji 18), it is said to have
originated in Toki Naruse’s time and was first presented to the shogunate when
Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu was the third in line. However, this is only a
folklore, and the details are not known.

It is thought that Gifu lanterns existed
about 300 years ago, since they were presented to the Shogunate in the mid-Edo
period and because some similar to today’s Gifu lanterns are still available.

Gifu chochin in the Edo period

At the time of its birth, plain lanterns
were made, but by the end of the Edo period, Gifu lanterns with beautifully
painted hibukuro (fire pouch) began to be made.
 At that time, Gifu paper lanterns were
high-class items that were presented to the shogunate or displayed by a few
wealthy people during festivals and Obon festivals, and were not available to
the general public.

Gifu lanterns in the Meiji era

After the Meiji Restoration, Gifu lanterns,
which were not widely available due to their high quality, continued to
However, in 1878, when the Emperor Meiji
visited Gifu, Gifu lanterns were presented to him by Teshigawara Naojiro, a
Gifu lantern producer, and this brought Gifu lanterns to the attention of the

Gifu lanterns became a traditional national

After regaining momentum in the Meiji
period (1868-1912), Gifu lantern producers established the Gifu Lantern Promotion
Association in 1949, which was incorporated in 1993 to form the Gifu Lantern
Cooperative Association. In 1995, the history and traditional manufacturing
method of Gifu paper lanterns were recognized and designated as a national
traditional craft.

Manufacturing Method and Process


To give strength and luster to the Japanese
paper, it is coated with “dousa” and allowed to dry. Dousa is made by
boiling glue and alum in water. Dousa also prevents pigments from bleeding
during the subsequent rubbing-in process. After this process, a base color is
applied (base color pulling), except for items that are to be finished on a
white background.

2. Surikomi

In this process, a craftsman called a
surikomeshi prints the design on the hibukuro (the egg-shaped part of the
lantern to which the paper is attached). This is one of the characteristics of
Gifu chochin. First, a woodblock is made for the outline based on the artist’s
original drawing, and the outline is printed. Next, a paper pattern is made by
hollowing out the area to be colored, and the colors are printed on it. The
colors are then printed on the pattern paper, which is hollowed out only where
the colors are to be applied, and the colors are printed on the pattern paper.
The number of times the paper is used to make a pattern can be as many as 100.

3. Making Kuchirin and Teban

The round rings attached to the top and
bottom of the lanterns (kuchiwa) and the boards from which the lanterns are
hung (teban) are made. The materials used are Japanese cedar and cypress. The
legs of Ouchi Andon (lanterns) are also made by woodworkers.

4. Decoration

The wooden craftsmen decorate the rims,
hand panels, legs, and other parts with a technique called “makie” or
“maki-age”. The “maki-e” technique is a technique in which
white gofun (white starch powder) is piled on top of the chrysanthemums to
create a three-dimensional effect.

5. Chochin Forming and Wrapping

This is the process of creating the shape
of the chochin. First, a prototype is made by assembling the lanterns’
papier-mâché forms. Next, bamboo strips are spirally wound to fit the fine grooves
on the stretching pattern. It is extremely difficult to wind the bamboo strips,
which are less than 1 mm thick, in an even and even tension.

traditional Chochin
Source: Mainichi newspaper

6. Stringing

First, thread the bamboo strips along the
back of the papier-mâché so that the lanterns do not stretch too much. This
also serves to prevent the paper from tearing. Next, thin paper for
reinforcement, called koshibari, is attached to the upper and lower sides of
the chochin, each about the width of four or five bamboo strips. After that,
glue is applied to the bamboo strips and the paper is pasted in one section of
the papier-mache mold, one sheet at a time. The reason for pasting one sheet at
a time is to make it easier to align the joints of the pattern. After one
round, the remaining sheets are pasted on, matching the pattern.

7. Cutting the joints

After each sheet of paper is pasted on the
fire pouch, carefully cut away the excess with a razor blade. If the joints
between sheets of paper are too thick, the light will be unevenly lit, so take
great care to make the joints as thin as possible, about 1 mm in diameter.

8. Die Cutting the Chochin

After the papered fire bag is dry, remove
the inner paper from the lantern. Using a spatula, carefully crease the fire
pouch and fold it carefully.

9. Painting and finishing

Unlike the technique of applying a pattern
by rubbing in a slip, this technique involves hand-painting a picture on the
plain finished tasubukuro. This technique uses Japanese painting techniques,
but requires a high level of skill and experience because it is difficult to
get the right amount of color to show through when the lantern is lit, and the
same pattern must be painted on several different lanterns without any
variation. Finally, the lanterns are completed by attaching the rings, hand
panels, tassels, and other parts.

Chochin from Gifu
Source: Jishichi

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