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Newsletter: Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition

Delivered on August 26, 2020
Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 117] August 26, 2020

Delivery Of Japan's Seasonal Tradition [Issue 117]
August 26, 2020
Japanese Traditional Culture Promotion & Development Organization


1. Seasonal Life:
Nostalgic lights: Chochin (Paper lantern)

:: 1. Seasonal Life

Here is a Haiku written by KUBOTA Mantaro who was a poet and author
in 19c.
"Bon Chochin Aritoshimonaki Kazeniyure"
Interpretation: Bon paper lantern is fluttering in the wind which you
can barely feel it is blowing.

Unfortunately this year is not the same as normal years, summer festivals
are held in July and August all over Japan every year and a large number
of people gather for them. Many of them, mainly women or girls, are
wearing Yukata which is a summery Kimono unlined and thin. There are
street stools of Goldfish scooping, Takoyaki(octopus dumplings), candy
floss, shaved ice, dynamic fireworks, etc. People are excitedly assembled
after sunset when it gets cooler.

Many Chochin paper lanterns provide illumination for those festivals
in the evening. Chochin decorated here and there in shopping streets,
Chochin hung in the venue for Bon (a traditional event to welcome the
sprits of ancestors) dance festivals, festivals of floats which were
made with many Chochin piled up, people parade holding Chochin… It is
not too much to say that Chochins brighten and colour the Japanese summer

It is said that a well-known Japanese Buddhist monk, Kukai, brought
back the Chochin. He also brought various cultural assets back to Japan
from the Tang dynasty in the Heian period (9c) too. Sanuki (Kagawa
prefecture), a home town of Kukai is still widely known as a region of
Sanuki Chochin today. There is The Shikoku 88 temple pilgrimage in
Shikoku which Sanuki belongs to and Sanuki Chochin was developed as
one of the offerings to temples. During the Bon period, people decorate
a Chochin to welcome back the spirits of their ancestors. The spirits
head towards the Chochin landmark so they don't get lost. It seems
natural that Chochins started prevailing with a demand for temples.

What Kukai brought back from China was a not portable or foldable
lantern. However, Ohenro (Shikoku Pilgrimage pilgrims) created "Ori
Chochin" which was easily made with wild bamboo stalks and leaves picked
on mountains. In the Kamakura period (14c), "Kago (basket) Chochin"
was created and then the Chochin which can be folded totally flat was
invented in the Muromachi period (16c).

When it became the Edo period (17c), the variations of Chochin increased
rapidly along with the popularity of candles. For instance, "Hako (box)
Chochin" has two lids at the top and bottom so that the main part can
be folded into them for portability. "Takahari Chochin" is often hung
outside of restaurants as a sign, and also it is often held by the
person who leads a parade in festivals. "Yumihari Chochin" endures
strenuous movement which is not only able to be placed on the floor
without extinguishing the fire but also people can run with it safely.
Many practical Chochins were created for different purposes.

Chochin was very common among ordinary people and it appears as a theme
for Rakugo (traditional comic storytelling). In the story called "Gonsuke
Chochin", a wife and a concubine who hate being jealous compromise their
feelings by sending the husband to each other. The husband goes back
and forth between those women's houses. It reached the dawn when he
realised and didn't need to light his Chochin anymore in the end. Chochin
was not only a utility item as lighting equipment but it also had a
role in ceremonies and festivals like a "Bon Chochin". And more, many
elaborately designed Chochin were produced so that people can appreciate
the appearance and cooling down by looking at it to enjoy summer.

In some regions in Yamanashi prefecture, "Firefly Chochin" are sold
apparently. Instead of a candle, fireflies light the Chochin and people
carry it to visit ancestor's graves. Fireflies were often depicted as
departed human sprits after death in traditional poems since ancient
times. People would probably feel the connection to their ancestors
more using the Chochin lit with their ancestor's comparison. Once they
finish the visit, the fireflies are released to go back to the other world.

The Time when there was no streetlamp on streets, Chochin which
illuminates the dark night must have lit up people's feelings too.
Paper Chochin, glass lamp, stone toro and so on, each lighting has its
distinctive quaintness. Are there any original lightings in your culture?
If there is, it might be interesting to find out how it has related to
the culture.

Translation by: Hitomi Kochi, reviewed by Chan Yee Ting

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Development Organization (JTCO)- All Rights Reserved.

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