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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on August 20, 2018
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 93] August 20, 2018

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 93]
August 20, 2018
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal life:
Feeling coolness of a sound: Furin (Wind chime)

:: 1. Seasonal life

Here is a "Kyoka (traditional comical poem with irony or social satire.)"
written in the Edo period (17c).
"Urigoemo nakute Kaiteno kazu aruwa Otoni shirareru Furinno toku"
Interpretation: It is furin's advantage that many people are attracted
by its sound even without the seller's sales shout.

The summer with extremely humid air that sticks to the body has arrived
again this year in Japan. Although the air conditioning in places where
people gather like offices, commercial buildings or public transport
is very appreciated, quite a few people try not to rely on an air
conditioner at home with the recent trend to be ecological and
health-conscious in Japan.

The non-electrical cooling techniques which have been traditionally
used since olden days have gained popularity again in recent years such
as "Sudare (a blind made with thin bamboos or reeds woven neatly
together.)", "Yoshizu (similar to Sudare but made with Yoshi reed)" or
"Uchimizu", sprinkling water over roads to lower the temperature. We
must not forget about the Furin. You may question "Why?". For the
Japanese, it is actually recognised as something which makes them calm,
and also provides them a cool sensation in the hot summer because of
the clear thin glass sound.

Despite the fact that the Furin is indispensable to impart cool sensation
in Japan, it became one of the Japanese summer features only from late
Edo period (19c). How had it been recognised before that?

The origin of Furin was a Chinese fortune-telling tool called "Senfutaku".
A king in the Tang Dynasty hung sphere jewellery stones at the corners
of North, South, East and West in his bamboo field and divined the
fortunes using the sounds of them hitting each other in the wind, or
by the wind directions. We can still see bronze bells hung at the four
corners of the rooms in Japanese temples. They are "Futaku" which make
low clang-clang sounds in the wind. It was used to ward off evils, and
was said that any misfortunes would not happen in the territory where
the sound reached. This is the origin of Furin.

In fact, there are many kinds of bells being used in shrines and temples
in Japan like the bell before the worship, the bell being shaken by a
Shinto priest to purify, the huge bell being struck in temples, the
small bell charm attached on amulets, the bells being used in a Buddhist
service, etc. They have been used to protect us as well as rice and
other crop fields from wild beasts in olden times. And also, earthenware
bells were found even in the remains of the Jomon period created 4,500
years ago. The purpose of the earthenware bells at that time is unknown,
however, the bells were practically used to protect people and food,
so we can easily imagine that it had gradually became the tool to ward
off misfortunes with their magical beliefs.

The National treasure, "Honen shonin gyojo e zu" is a record of the
life of a monk called Honen who lived from the end of the Heian period
(12c) to the early Kamakura period (13c). The word "Furei風鈴", has
almost the same pronunciation of "Furin" today and also the kanji
characters are exactly the same. It is the very first Furin mentioned
in any historical literature. A bronze Furin hanging under the roof
was also depicted in the record. Over time, the Furin has gradually
changed from a purging tool into a tool to sweep off hot weather.

According to records, the glass Furin was created in the middle of the
17th century. As the manufacturing technology was not advanced enough
at that time, it was incredibly expensive. However, the manufacturing
technology for colourless and transparent glass was brought into Japan
from the Netherlands and then had been studied rapidly. During the 19th
century, glasswork was prosperous in Edo (Tokyo), the Furin made by
glass blowing method was especially popular at the end of the Edo
period (19c).

The kyoka in the opening paragraph depicts the selling of furin in the
Edo period. At that time, each seller shouted their sales pitches to
attract customers distinctively. However, it was not necessary for
furin sellers to do that as their furins sold like hotcakes because of
the sound. It entertains us not only by the look of the beautiful glass
appearance but it also makes enjoyable sounds in the wind. It is
absolutely no wonder that it was substantially popular as one of the
Japanese summer features.

The sound of the furin is chosen for one of the "100 Soundscapes of
Japan" which are the sounds that people love as a symbol of each local
area and wish to pass down to the future generations. It was proved in
a study that the sound of furin gave us cooler feeling as well as
lowers the actual body temperature. Although life should be easier
with the development of science and technology compared to ancient
times, it is somehow hard to be easy-going and get relaxed in our daily
lives. We should perhaps calm our feelings and have a cool summer with
the furin sound. Why don't you come to Japan to listen the furin sound
in the summer?

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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