Yame lanterns

Yame lanterns Yame chochin

Gorgeous ornaments made with gold lacquer
A mysterious light shines from inside the lantern


What is Yame lanterns ?

Yame Lanterns (called Yame Chochin in Japanese) are a type of lantern craft produced in the region around Yame, Fukuoka prefecture. This craft has a bamboo frame and a fire box with beautifully painted flowers, birds, and plants. The bamboo frame uses the ichijo rasenshiki method where a long and thin bamboo stick is wound onto the frame of the lantern spirally. Lanterns made with this method are considered to be the origin of today's Bon chochin or Bon festival* lantern, which are the main products of this craft. Bon chochin is placed in front of the Buddhist home altar around the time of the festival. There are about three thousand kinds of Yame Chochin, including sumiyoshi (cylindrical, long and thin) and gotenmaru (round and hanging type), as well as ceremonial lanterns, and lanterns for advertisements. The fire box, where the light is lit, is made with thin handmade traditional Japanese paper produced in Yame or silk, which makes the fire box translucent. Because of this appearance, the lantern is also referred to as suzumi chochin or cooling lantern, and is highly valued and well known throughout Japan. Locally produced bamboo, traditional Japanese paper, lacquer, and wood are used for Yame lanterns.

*The bon festival is a Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one's ancestors that takes place in the summertime.


Yame Lanterns have approximately two hundred years of tradition. The origin of this craft is said to be the bachochin made by Bunemon ARAMAKI from Fukushima, Fukuoka prefecture in 1813. At the time, it was called Fukushima Chochin because of the production location. The lanterns made by Bunemon ARAMAKI were hanging lanterns that were used in places such as cemeteries. The designs were simple, such as patterns of camellias and peonies drawn with a single color. Tahei YOSHINAGA who also lived in Fukushima invented the ichijo rasenshiki method and the production method using thin paper for the fire box, between 1854 and 1859. These inventions caused a revolution in lantern production. During the Meiji period (1868-1912), when the demand for lanterns increased dramatically, the younger brother of Tahei YOSHINAGA, Ihei, adopted the method of fast drawing. As a result, they were able to keep the selling prices low by reducing the production time. They developed their production and exported to other countries, such as the US and England.

General Production Process

  1. 1. Preparing the bamboo sticks The frame of the fire box is made by winding one thin bamboo stick spirally onto a wooden frame. A long bamboo stick is made by joining twelve to twenty-five bamboo sticks that are each about 0.4 millimeters in diameter and 4.5 meters in length.
  2. 2. Assembling the wooden frame The wooden frame where the long bamboo stick is to be wound onto is assembled based on the size and the shape of the lantern. The frame consists of a crescent-shaped wooden board, which is called the wing, and a round disk to fix the wing in place. Normally, eight to sixteen wings are used to make one frame.
  3. 3. Winding the bamboo stick Tension rings called hari-wa are fixed at the top and bottom of the wooden frame to fasten the assembled frame. One end of the bamboo stick is fixed to the top ring and the bamboo stick is wound around the wooden frame in a spiral along the groove of the wings down to the bottom ring. After the bamboo stick is wound around the frame, thread is tied over the bamboo frame to prevent damaging the paper as the lantern expands and contracts. The thread is vertically pulled from the top ring to the bottom ring over the bamboo frame. Both ends of the thread are fastened at the top and bottom rings.
  4. 4. Pasting silk Silk cloth is pasted from the top and bottom pulling rings to the fourth or fifth spiraled frame to reinforce the opening of the lantern.
    Then, wheat starch paste is applied in each area of the bamboo frame divided by the threads with a brush and the silk is pasted slightly loosely on every other area divided by the threads.
  5. 5. Seam-cutting of the silk The extra parts of silk pasted on every other area divided by the thread is cut off with a razor, leaving about a millimeter width of overlap to apply glue.
  6. 6. Coating Japanese paper A solution made from a mixture of alum and animal glue is evenly coated on the surface of the fire box to prevent the smearing of paints.
  7. 7. Removing the wooden frame When the fire box is dried, the wooden frame is disassembled inside the lantern and removed.
  8. 8. Painting Artisans specialized in painting, paint the designs directly on the fire box. The artisans paint the designs without making any rough drawings beforehand.
  9. 1. Making the wooden parts Lantern rings called gawa in Japanese and wooden handles called teita are made. The lantern rings, which are attached at the top and bottom of the lantern, are made by a craftsman specialized in making wooden accessories for lanterns by bending a wooden board by hand. A thread sawing machine is used to cut the wooden handle from a thick wooden board. The wood is filed until smooth.
  10. 2. Applying lacquer to the wooden parts A craftsman specialized in applying lacquer applies soft textured lacquer twice.
  11. 3. Applying maki-e decorations When the lacquer is dry, a craftsman draws a rough design with gold lacquer and sprinkles gold, silver or colored powder onto the dried gold lacquer(maki-e) or applies thinly shaved seashells like abalone and pearl oysters (raden) for decoration. The painted fire box and the decorated lantern rings and wooden handle are delivered to the lantern shop. Craftsmen who are specialized in assembling lanterns assemble the lanterns and add decorations including tassels and metal fittings.

Where to Buy & More Information

Yame Dento Kogeikan

Yame Dento Kogeikan

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