Since the Edo period (1603~1867), the town of white plastered walls has been lit by red, goldfish-shaped lanterns!
A traditional folk craft, “Kingyo Chōchin (Goldfish-shaped lanterns)” are made here in Yanai city, Yamaguchi Prefecture.
First created about 150 years ago, they say a dyer got the idea from Aomori Nebuta when the town of white plastered walls was still busy and active.
Originally, adults would make them for kids as the Obon festival drew near.
As a welcome sign for ancestors, the kids would walk around town carrying the goldfish lanterns. This was a typical summer scene in Yanai.
Though this tradition disappeared for a while, Mr. Nobuo Kawamura reintroduced it after the war.
About 40 years ago, Nobuo said to his wife Masae, “I want to make Yanai the goldfish lantern town of Japan.”
“He told me that he was entrusting me with the children and the house. Once he makes a decision, he never changes his mind. So, the only thing I could say was say… Okay, LOL.”
After that conversation, Nobuo cut back on sleep and devoted himself to making lanterns.
His great efforts bore fruit. Lantern making was chosen as one of two major folk-crafts in Yamaguchi, and Yanai became known as “the town of goldfish lanterns”.
Nobuo passed away 2 years ago at the age of 84.
After a while, his wife Masae told her two sons that she wanted to build a studio. (Having a studio for goldfish lanterns was Nobuo’s dream before he died.)
But, there was one huge problem.
The only thing related to lanterns that Nobuo left was … just a piece of paper! Even though Masae wanted to reproduce lanterns, Nobuo had left no clue as to the construction details.
Hideaki, their second son, said, “He had the spirit of a true artisan, and he was reticent – he didn’t say much. Fortunately, my brother took a video of my father making lanterns.”
In line with his mother’s wishes, Hideaki decided to take over his father’s work. He watched the video over and over and, one by one, he learned his father’s techniques by trial and error.
In August 2013, the longed-for “Kawamura Nobuo Studio” opened!
From kids to seniors, everyone enjoys making goldfish lanterns – they bring Yanai to life!
That was Nobuo’s wish.
Every year, when Obon draws near, the town of Yanai turns red. The Kawamura family gets busy and works hard to prepare for the “Yanai Kingyo Chōchin festival”, the biggest summer festival in Yanai. About 2,000 goldfish lanterns are lit at the festival.
The only memo that Nobuo left is tacked onto the wall of the studio…
As mother and son keep the Goldfish Lantern tradition alive, so the town of Yanai lives on!
Setouchi Finder Photo-write: Masashi Fujimoto
Honke Yanai no Kingyo Chōchin “Kawamura Nobuo Studio”
Address: 495-1 Furuichi, Yanaitsu, Yanai-shi, Yamaguchi
(Tucked away in a corner of the Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings in “the town of white plastered walls”.)
Hours: 11:00 – 16:00
* Goldfish lantern making 1,080 yen per person (Size 5)
– “Yanai Kingyo Chōchin Festival” website (Japanese) : http://www.city-yanai.jp/site/kanko/kingyomatsuri.html
Masafumi Fujimoto Hi there! My name is Masafumi Fujimoto. Until the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, I was engaged in editing production at an advertising company in Tokyo. However, the earthquake was a turning point in my life and I headed home to Yamaguchi. When I arrived, I was extremely energized and motivated to help revitalize the region, but I had a hard time adjusting to the motivation level of the local people. Around that time I met an elderly lady who said: "It doesn't matter if all the people move away from the island; that's just the nature of things. Someday people will come back again." Lessening the tension I’d been feeling, those few words relieved me hugely, and I was able to finally adjust. Since then, I've been involved in writing and editing magazines, and working in advertisement production, as well as doing a little bit of farming. I also spend time walking around Setouchi searching for the many, many voices out there.
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