Gifu lanterns Gifu chochin
Graceful & delicate shape with an elegant & immaculate design
A heartwarming light from a lantern nurtured by a history of three hundred years
Gifu Chochin is a lantern produced in Gifu City, Gifu Prefecture. The lantern has a history of longer than three hundred years and the high level of the technique used to make it was valued so highly that the lantern was designated as one of the traditional national crafts in 1995.
Gifu Chochin is used as household decoration during the Obon festival (a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors) during summer. They are also used for lighting and interior decoration.
Gifu Chochin are mainly egg-shaped and hanged for use which is known as the Gosho Chochin style. Gosho Chochin are sometimes referred to as Gifu Chochin, too. Other than the typical egg-shaped and hanging lantern, the Gotenmaru (round lantern) and Ouchiandon (stationary type lantern with tripod) are also well known.
The characteristics of Gifu Chochin are the materials used, including high quality Mino (Gifu) paper and bamboo produced in the Mino region, as well as the detailed drawings, such as autumn flowers, birds and scenery. Mino paper has been renowned for its thinness and strength since ancient times. Mino paper itself is also a designated traditional national craft. Both Takehigo (thin sticks of bamboo) and Mino paper are as thin and fine as possible. With such fine raw materials together with its delicate and gracious shape and the elegant drawings, Gifu Chochin gives an elegant and immaculate impression.
The region surrounding Gifu City has been well known for high quality Japanese paper and bamboo since ancient times. For this reason, Gifu City developed various crafts as well as Gifu Chochin, including Japanese umbrellas and Uchiwa (Japanese paper fans) using Mino paper and bamboo.
Gifu Chochin lanterns were presented to the Bakufu (government) in the period of the third shogun of the Tokugawa family. There are various views about the origin of Gifu Chochin. Some say they were first made between 1596 and 1615 and some say they were first made in 1650.
By 1751 – 1763, Chochinya Juzo, a lantern-maker in Gifu-cho, made lanterns with a similar shape to the present Gifu Chochin for the official use in the Owari domain. Between 1818 and 1829, Gifu Chochin with drawings of plants became so popular that the lantern was even recited in a poem by a court noble in Kyoto.
After that, Gifu Chochin were continuously produced but as they were of such high quality they were too expensive for the general public. The name of the lantern spread widely in the Meiji period. When the Emperor Meiji visited Gifu City in 1878, he liked the lantern and from then on it started to be appreciated nationwide as a traditional national craft of Gifu prefecture.
General Production Process
- 1. Dosabiki (coating Japanese paper)
The Japanese paper is coated with Dosa (mixture of burnt alum and glue) to give the paper resilience and a glossy appearance. Burnt alum and glue are put in water and simmered to make Dosa. A Dosa coating also prevents the smearing of paints in the next stage of stenciling. The paper is painted with the basic color (Jiirobiki) unless the base color is white.
- 2. Stenciling
This is a process in which Surikomishi (a craftsman who is specialized in stenciling) stencils the design on the Japanese paper used for Hibukuro (the egg-shaped part of a lantern where the Japanese paper is pasted). This is one of the characteristics of Gifu Chochin. First of all, a printing block for the outline based on the original drawing by Eshi (a painter) is prepared and the outline is stenciled. After that, a paper pattern is made with the part to be colored cut off and the color is rubbed in. The coloring process has to be repeated many times, taking into consideration the layers of colors and the overlapping parts. A paper pattern has to be made for each time coloring is done. So, the number of paper patterns sometimes exceeds 100 for one design.
- 3. Producing Kuchiwa (guard ring) and Teita (board)
Kuchiwa and Teita are produced in this process. Kuchiwa is a ring attached to the top and the bottom of the Chochin. Teita is a board to which the lantern is attached so a person can carry the lantern hanging from the board. The material used is Japanese cedar or Japanese cypress. This is a process carried out by a Kijishi (woodturner) who also makes the legs for Ouchiandon.
- 4. Decorating accessories
Kuchiwa, Teita and legs are decorated using Makie (lacquer) and Moriage (embossing) methods. Moriage is a method that produces a three-dimensional effect by, for example, using whitewash to make a chrysanthemum shape.
- 5. Producing the frame of Chochin and doing Higomaki
This is the process to make the framework of the lantern. First of all, a basic shape is made by assembling Harikata (a frame for the lantern frame). Takehigo (thin bamboo sticks) are wound around Harikata in a spiral shape along the fine grooves carved in the Harikata. It is very difficult to wind bamboo sticks that are less than 1mm in diameter around the Harikata while keeping the same tension in the sticks.
- 6. Pasting
Strings are wound around the bamboo frame along the back part of the Harikata in order to prevent the lantern from stretching out of shape. This process also prevents the pasted paper from being damaged. The thin lining paper (Koshihari) is pasted on the top and the bottom of the lantern. The width of the paper (Koshihari) is 4-5 bamboo sticks. Glue is brushed on the bamboo sticks and the stenciled Japanese paper is pasted on every other section divided by the Harikata. This is to make it easier to match the overlapping part of the design. Once the paper has been pasted once around the lantern, the rest of the paper is pasted carefully making sure that the pattern is aligned..