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Fukuoka & Culture

Traditional Crafts

Yame Chochin LanternsBuddhist altars/fittings

Yame chochin lanterns were originally conceived from Yame, Japanese washi paper made using clear water, and silk. These masterpieces of cultural elegance are an essential feature of festivals in the Chikugo region. Around 200 years ago, people in Fukushima Town (present day Yame City) started creating simple lanterns. Then, around 150 years ago, a new method was introduced to split the bamboo used for the frames of the lamps into fine strips and wind them into a single spiral along with thin handmade Japanese washi paper. This established the foundations for creating Yame chochin lanterns still in use today. These lanterns have continued to evolve with the times thanks to the efforts of many master craftsmen over many generations.

Types of lanterns

Traditional Yame Chochin lanterns come in many varieties, including sumiyoshi (a long cylindrical type of lantern) and gotenmaru (a round hanging type of lantern). However, the most common type today is known as andon - a lantern with a wooden frame and paper shade. Around 80% of the lanterns produced in Yame are for the Bon Festival (Obon) held in August, but other lanterns are made here for various festivals and shrines.

Techniques for making lanterns: pasting and painting

The peak season for lantern production in Yame is in June and July, just before Obon. The lanterns are produced using a division of labor, involving processes such as lantern framing (using bamboo sticks, etc.), pasting and painting. The main material used for pasting today is silk. The tasks of cutting the pasted silk with a razor and applying a liquid called dosa to the silk, which affects the lantern's finish the most, require seasoned skills and precision. For the painting itself, a unique technique called sokuga (speed painting) was developed and put into practice for improving productivity. Using this method, painters can paint more than 10 detailed lantern shades in one go based on a design committed to memory and without the need for rough sketches. These lanterns burn with the passion of Chikugo's artisans.