Yanai is a quaint but friendly town located on the southern tip of Yamaguchi prefecture. The moment I stepped off the local train, I was hit with an automatic need to slow down time: the pace at which this town moved is welcoming, like a beloved grandmother. From the station, I walked across the bridge on the wide shallow river and headed towards the shirakabe, white-walled buildings, that are traditional and famous.
As I got closer to the old streets, bright red goldfish lanterns began appearing; one on the door of a ramen shop, another on the front steps of a family home, two by a stationery store…when I finally turned the corner, I was greeted by dozens of goldfish lanterns, all wide eyed and dancing and waving their fins as they hung outside of buildings.
It’s evident all around town how much the people of Yanai take pride in their goldfish lanterns. The historic street strip is dotted with stores full of goldfish items such as stationery sets and food. There is even a small self-operating museum which features artifacts that gives a glimpse into the history and development of Yanai.
A unique town that loves goldfish: How can I take one home?
Off of the main street and up a few meters lies a grand white and wooden building known as Yanai Nishikura. Inside the historic building is one tall and wide room that serves as a community center for visitors. Kind and patient volunteers here teach the goldfish lantern-making and coaster weaving classes. Each course takes less than 30 minutes and cost ¥900 and ¥350 respectively. I called in advance to make a reservation for making a goldfish lantern, but was also able to ask for a lesson in weaving on the spot. Some days are slower than others, so reservations aren’t necessary, but it can be of benefit to let the volunteers know in advance if you plan to pay a visit.
Making the goldfish lantern
The body of the goldfish lantern is already put together by the arts center, shown on the very left. So, what I got to do was draw on the scale designs and glue on the eyes, fins, and tail. As shown below. Be careful not to use too much ink, as the thin lantern paper can smudge easily! The volunteers helped with any steps I struggled with, as they know the secret tricks to make the original lanterns come out looking beautiful.
The process from right to left: the structure of the body is made of thin bamboo pieces, then the lantern paper is glued, followed by the dying of the paper in red. All the work is done by center volunteers.
And, voila! Here was my finished product.
Weaving a coaster
With the coaster making, half of the weaving is already done for you. Choose a color pattern you like and choose one new color to add, which is what the coaster will be crossed with using your own hands. It takes a few minutes to get used to having to switch hands and feet with every weave, but it wasn’t hard at all!
You can make origami goldfish, too!
Goldfish lanterns in Yanai are displayed year-round, and the classes at the center run most days of the year except Tuesdays and New Years holiday. If you want to go at the best time, the locals suggest visiting in August, when the annual Goldfish Lantern festival occurs. During the time of the festival, the town is filled with more goldfish lanterns and the parade features some goldfish displays in the size of proper parade floats (aka HUGE!). The delightful people of Yanai are ready to welcome visitors from near and far, to share their town’s beauty with you all!
Open: 9:00AM ~ 5:00PM, closed Tuesdays and some holidays
Goldfish lantern: ¥900 (approx. 30 minutes)
Woven coaster: ¥350 (approx. 30 minutes)
Nina is a professional and recreational writer currently exploring her motherland of Japan. When she's not busy working on her upcoming conversational English book, she can be spotted biking around Tokyo to indulge in delicious food and attempting to snuggle with kitties at cat cafés. She's an odd collector of free brochures from travel counters, always looking for the next exciting destination. Nina often likes to escape the Tokyo city life to go discover new trails on the outbacks of Japan, where she enjoys connecting with locals and wanderers alike.
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