Things we love #4 – Japanese lanterns!

Chochin Lanterns at a temple in Osaka

Chochin Lanterns at a temple in Osaka

Japanese people have been using lanterns long before the electricity was invented. Lanterns have become a cultural icon of Japan over the years. Even with modern lighting, it’s interesting to see the different ways that lanterns are used in Japan. There are 4 kinds of traditional lanterns in Japan – the andon, the bonbori, the chōchin, and the tōrō.

Andon –  Years ago, the andon was handheld; it could also be placed on a stand or hung on a wall. The okiandon was however commonly used indoors. Nowadays, you may find andon lamps in Ryokans and inside restaurants.

Bonbori – This is a kind of paper lantern is used outdoors and also used during festivals. Every year a Bonbori festival is held in Kamakura where 400 bonbori painted by artists are erected on the shrine grounds of the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu shrine.

Tōrō – These traditional Japanese lanterns are made of stone, wood or metal. They are most commonly used to illuminate Buddhist temples, shinto shrines and Japanese gardens.

Chōchin – This one is our favorite. The Chōchin are collapsible lanterns, cylindrical in shape. Nowadays, these are commonly seen at the entrance of buddhist temples, izakayas and are also used to decorate the food stalls during festival time. 

Ishidorou at Atsuta Shrine

Ishidorou(Stone Toro) at Atsuta Shrine

"Yakitori" Chochin Lantern

Yakitori” Chochin Lantern











 Why we like Japanese Lanterns !

  1. We love lights! As weird as it sounds, the ambiance of warm glowing lanterns totally makes our day.
  2. Lanterns give us a feel of what Traditional Japan was like. Years ago, way before the westernization of Japan, streets were lit by the warm glow of the paper lanterns. You can often see this depiction in Japanese period movies.
  3. We think chochin lanterns outside restaurants manage to attract the customers – they stand out from the rest of the lot. At least, we always fall for it.  :P
Big Chochin Lantern at Osu kannon, Nagoya

Big Chochin Lantern at Osu kannon, Nagoya


Andon Lantern during Nagoya summer Festival (Nagoya castle in the background)

Andon Lantern during Nagoya summer Festival (Nagoya castle in the background)


Lantern Festivals you must check out!

1. Nagasaki Lantern Festival

This festival was started by the Chinese residents of Nagasaki to celebrate Chinese New year. But over the years, it has become a major festival spanning 15 days! The streets are decorated with around 15,000 lanterns painted by Chinese artists. It’s a dazzling sight!

2. O-bon Festival

Obon festival translates to “Lantern festival”. It is actually a Buddhist ceremony to honor the spirits of one’s ancestors. It is believed that spirits return to the earth to visit their Lanterns are hung outside the house in order to guide the spirits. At the end of the Obon festival, the spirits of the ancestors are believed to be guided back into their world by floating lanterns which are put into the river. The Japanese people very strongly  believe in and follow this custom.

3. Otaru Snow Light Path Festival (Otaru Yuki akari no Michi) 

Otaru Snow Gleaming (Snow Lantern) Festival 2008

Otaru Yuki akari no Michi by Christopher Chan

This is a winter festival held every year(February) in Otaru. The city is decorated with lanterns, candles and small statues for 10 days. This festival is usually celebrated around the same time as the Sapporo snow festival so you get to enjoy both of them!

 Your thoughts…

What do you think about Japanese lanterns? Have you been to any of the lantern festivals? Let us know in the comments!


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