2016 No.18


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Souvenirs of JapanSouvenirs of Japan


Collapsible Paper Lanterns

Photos: Kawakami Naomi, Getty Images, PIXTA

Chochin are traditional Japanese lanterns, made by gluing washi paper on a framework of bamboo hoops. They are illuminated by a candle inside. When not in use, they can be folded small by collapsing the hoops upon themselves. They are made to be portable.

The design of toro, a lantern, was adapted around the end of the 16th century to make the bamboo hoop chochin. The typical shape has not changed much since then, although other shapes and sizes were developed later, with the paper displaying a name or family crest, and the lantern being carried by hand or hung from an eave as a kind of sign. Over time, brightly colored chochin came to be used in ceremonies to welcome the gods or the souls of ancestors, and different designs were created for decorating the interiors and exteriors of homes.

Even though electric lights have been common for a long time now, chochin still have a job to perform, as signs for restaurants serving Japanese cuisine and for izakaya eating and drinking establishments, as street decorations for shopping districts, and as extra color for summer festivals. Their role conveying a traditional Japanese touch or creating a special ambience on festive occasions would be hard to overestimate.

As a souvenir, chochin are an obvious choice for many people. Pop-style varieties, perhaps inscribed with a place name or decorated with an ukiyoe image, are almost sure to be sold in tourist spots. Even without a candle inside, they will add a fabulous Japanese touch to interior space.