Yame Chochin make fantastic night in Japanese Summer festival


Yame Chochin portraits overwhelming beauty

Yame chochin are a traditional handicraft made in Yame City, Fukuoka Prefecture. They are generally used as Bon Festival lanterns, featuring a spiral frame called Ichijo Rasenshiki and beautiful colorful paintings of flowers, birds, winds, and the moon on a thin silk-applied fire pouch. With a history of more than 200 years since the Edo period, the beautiful shapes and colorful paintings of this traditional craft is highly valued both in Japan and abroad. Along with Gifu chochin, Yame chochin are one of the most famous chochin in Japan.

There are several types of chochin, including “Sumiyoshi,” a long tube-shaped chochin traditionally handed down locally, and “Godenmaru,” a hanging chochin, but today, “Andon” is the most common type. About 80% of Yame production is for *Obon, but festival chochin and chochin for shrines are also produced.

*Obon is one of the buddhist events.  In Buddhism, it is believed that the
spirits of family ancestors come back to this world during the Obon period
between July and August, and a series of events take place to commemorate them. Chichon often stands aside of Buddhist altar

Yame chochin
Across Fukuoka

Another characteristic of Yame chochin is the *watercolor painting. Traditional Japanese lanterns and lanterns are often decorated with ink and paint. The uniqueness of Yame chochin lies in this watercolor painting. The flowing expression that takes advantage of water and the shading adjusted by the amount of water creates a tasteful expression and expresses the wabi-sabi of Japan. Refreshing, yet somehow serene, calm, and sometimes lonely, is the skill of a traditional craftsman who fully utilizes the characteristics of watercolor painting.

*Watercolor painting is a process in which pigments are dissolved in water and painted. Generally, watercolor painting is a painting on paper using transparent pigments. When water is used as a solvent but with opaque pigments, or when paintings are done on walls, tempera and fresco, for example, are not called watercolor paintings.

Chochin ? Lantern?

Chochin is sometimes expressed as “lantern” in English translation, but in Japan, there is a clear distinction between “lantern” and “chochin”.

  • “lantern” is a portable lighting fixture made of wood, metal, plastic, or glass of Western origin.
  • “Chochin” are traditional Japanese lighting fixtures made of paper and wood, and many are foldable.
yame chochin lightning
source: Yame Chochin association

History of Yame Chochin

Yame chochin began in the late Edo period around 1813. It is one of the relatively youngest traditional Japanese crafts. Still, the fact that it has a history of more than 200 years shows how Japanese traditional crafts have been refined over the years.

Yae chochin are said to have originated when Bunemon Aramaki, who lived in Yame at the time, created place chochin with simple designs such as mountain tea flowers. The place chochin were used at cemeteries and other places and became very popular. Forty years later, Tahei Yoshinaga developed the Ichijo spiral, in which the bamboo of the chochin is thinned and rolled into a spiral shape. He used Japanese paper so thin that it could be seen through, thereby increasing the brightness, and painted landscapes, flowers, and birds on the surface to create the elegant Ryoumi-chochin.

Furthermore, Ihei Yoshinaga, a younger brother of Taihei, applied the rapid drawing method to speed up production and reduce costs. In other words, a mass production system was established. After the Meiji period (1868-1912), sales channels were opened overseas, and Yame chochin gained fame. Today, Yame Chochin manufactures Bon Festival lanterns and other lanterns that require designs.

Manufacturing Methods and Processes

1. Preparation of Higo

This section describes the making of the hibukuro (fire pouch). The bone of the hibukuro is made by wrapping a single thin bamboo strips around a spiral. The long bamboo strips are made by joining together 12 to 25 strips with a diameter of about 0.4mm and a length of about 4.5m.

2. Assembling the wooden form

A wooden form is assembled to wrap around the bamboo strips according to the size and shape of the chochin to be made. The wooden form consists of a crescent-shaped board called a “feather” and a “disk” that holds the feather in place.

3. Higo-maki

The top and bottom of the wooden form are fitted with “tension rings” to hold the form in place. After fixing one end of the bamboo strips to the top tension ring, the bamboo strips are wound along the grooves of the feathers to the bottom tension ring so that they form a spiral shape.

Once the bamboo strips have been wrapped, a “hanging string” is applied to prevent the paper from being damaged by the expansion and contraction of the lantern. The thread is passed straight across the top of the bamboo strips from the top tension ring to the bottom tension ring, and both ends of the thread are fastened to the top and bottom tension rings.

Buddhist altar
source: Yame Chochin association

4. Stitching of Jiginu (ground silk)

From the upper and lower stretchers, silk is attached to the four or five bones to reinforce the mouth of the lantern. Then, glue is applied with a brush to each section of the bamboo strips divided by the hanging threads, and one piece of base silk is applied to each section, leaving a little slack between the two sections.

5. Cutting the joints of the jiginu

The excess portion of each section of the hanging silk is cut off with a razor and the width of the overlapping seam is adjusted to about 1 mm.

6. Douser Pulling

The surface of the fire pouch is evenly coated with a solution of nikawa and alum, called “dousa,” to prevent the pigment used for painting from bleeding through.

7. Die Cutting

After the hibukuro has finished drying, the wooden mold is disassembled inside and all the pieces are removed.

8. Painting

A painter, a craftsman who specializes in painting, paints directly on the hibukuro. The painter adds the painting with a brush, without making any preliminary sketches.

  1. Making the wood:
    This section describes the making of the kawa and teita. The wood is bent by the hands of a professional craftsman, or “jijishi,” to make the “gawa,” which is attached to the top and bottom of the chochin. A saw is then used to cut the “teita” from a thicker board, which is then filed to a smooth finish.
  2. Lacquering:
    Lacquer is applied twice by a lacquer painter to give it a subdued texture.
  3. Maki-e :
    After the lacquer coating dries, a maki-eshi (maki-e artist) draws a preliminary drawing for the maki-e. Once the underpainting is dry, gold or silver colored powder is sprinkled on the surface, and raden (mother-of-pearl inlay) decoration is applied by pasting shiny shells on the surface.

The painted hibukuro, decorated gawa, and teita are collected at the chochin shop, where they are assembled by specialized craftsmen, and tassels and metal fittings are attached for the final touch.

modern Yame chochin
souce: Kogei Expo in Fukuoka


Traditionally, Yame chochin were produced for use in Buddhist-style rooms and for Obon festivals, but nowadays the techniques used to make these chochin are being converted to lighting fixtures. Particularly with regard to the use of paper, there are techniques that cannot be reproduced in industrial products. The use of watercolor techniques to add tints to the paper allows for the expression of colors that cannot be achieved with industrial products, which is another reason for the popularity of Yame chochin that continues to this day.

modern works of Yame chochin
souce: Kogei Expo in Fukuoka
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