A lantern came into use in Japan in the latter half of the 16th century as a portable light source replacing a torch. Bamboo-basket lanterns as in the present forms appeared during the early Edo period (1608-1868). In their heyday there were as many as sixty lantern shops in Kanazawa. However, due to the spread of electric torches and street lights, the number of shops dropped to only a few, which are now mainly producing lanterns for festivals and decorative uses.
Different from other kinds of lanterns, in which a bamboo frame forms a spiral, Kaga lanterns are made of the bamboo ribs forming a separate rings inside and being tied with thread. It is a painstaking work, but creates beautiful curve lines and the product is strong and long lasting. Kaga lanterns are favored as a high-grade lantern for festivals. In spring and fall, when most festivals are held, orders rush from all over the country. Kaga paper lanterns will shine softly over the people enjoying the festivals everywhere in the country.
Osugi Festival is held in October every year at Osugi Shrine, which is worshipped by local people as the shrine of Anba-sama and Tengu. This festival is known for the music of Anba-bayashi, composed of the sounds of Japanese traditional gongs, drums and flutes, to which the dancers rhythmically dance around the floats dragged by the people in happi-gowns. Anba-bayashi is designated as a National Selective Intangible Folk Cultural Property. The festival dates back to the reign of the fourth Shogun, Ietsuna (1651-1680), when smallpox prevailed in this area. The villagers prayed for the cease of the epidemic by marching around the village carrying the mask of Tengu, which was the guardian deity of the village shrine. According to an old regional record, Hitachi Fudoki, the place where Osugi Shrine is located used to be called “Anba,” which was on the peninsula protruding out of the huge inner sea including present-day Lake Kasumigaura (Nishi-ura and Kita-ura), the Tone River, Inba-numa Pond, and Tega-numa Pond. At the tip of the peninsula stands a huge Japanese cedar tree, which has been called “Anba-sama” and worshipped by the local people as the guardian deity.
Odawara-jochin is a chochin (paper lantern) made in Odawara City (Kanagawa Pref.), which was once a post station of the Tokaido Road. It is said that a local craftsman named Jinzaemon first made this type of lantern. Different from ordinary paper lanterns, Odawara lantern can be closed accordion-style because the horizontal ribs are independent of each other, so it is easily carried in the bosom of the kimono. As the ribs are flat and steadily glued to the outer paper, it is hard to come unstuck and water-proof. Also as the ribs were originally made of cedar wood that grew in the precinct of Saijoji Temple in the local mountain of Mt. Daiyuzan, it was believed that the numen of the wood protected people from being cheated by foxes and raccoons. Odawara lantern was a necessity article for travelers going along mountain paths at night. This lantern is mentioned in a nursery rhyme “Osaru-no-kagoya (a monkey palanquin bearer)” and loved by people all the time.
Tochigi bamboo craft of Otawara, Tochigi Pref. was designated as Important Intangible Cultural Heritage in 1982. At present Katsushiro is the designated bearer. There are a lot of bamboo groves in the city of Otawara, so people have been actively engaged in bamboo craft from ancient days. However it was in 1972 when excellent bamboo of Otawara was selected as food for the pandas presented by the Chinese government as the token of Japan-China friendship that Otawara bamboo came to be known all over the country. In the old days items for daily use such as baskets for agricultural use, backpacking baskets for woodcutters and fishing rods were made, most of which are no longer used but are still made as “articles of folk craft.” Nowadays items suited for modern life including flower vessels, bags and cell-phone cases are also made and very popular among the people who love “real stuff.”
Sanjo-style Rokkaku-maki-dako kite which translates as “kite which rolls itself” is a traditional handicraft of Sanjo district in Echigo region, Niigata Pref. It has a history of 150 years since the late Edo period. The kite was originally used as a substitute for smoke signals, then it is said that it was improved to roll itself so easy to carry. The kite are all covered with portraits of warriors and of heroes from Japanese legends. Rokkaku kite is made of three bamboo spars (one is the spine or the longest spar and 2 cross spars), twine, washi-paper, dyestuff and glue. In order to roll it to carry, you simply detach the vertical bamboo spar. The making of the kite is all by manual procedures. First the bamboo for spars are heated to straighten up, then adjusted so that they have the same length and girth, nodes are scraped off, dried, and finally images are painted on it, which alone of course takes quite a bit of time. Now there are only two-kite manufacturer in Sanjo. In June, which is believed to be a month of “men”, the traditional event of the kite fighting is held, when craftsmen’s prayers fly around the great arch of the sky.
Ema are wooden plates on which people write their prayers. Then they are hung up at a shrine as offerings to the gods. Ema usually take a shape of pentagon because the plates used to have roofs on them. Ema have a history going back to the Nara period (710-794), when a picture of a horse was offered to a shrine instead of a real horse. Each shrine uses its unique and traditional Ema. At Fushimi Inari Shrine, for example, the face of a fox is painted on the plate because a fox is considered to be the god’s messenger. On Ema for the wish of preventing eye diseases, a Japanese hiragana letter of “me (meaning an eye in Japanese)” is written. Or the inverted letter of “me” is written on some plates. Those who want to prevent their husbands’ flirtation use Ema with the Kanji meaning “heart” and the picture of the lock and key drawn on them. In the present days people also like to attach miniature Ema to their key chains or cell phones as bringer of good luck.
Ougi was invented around the 8th century in Japan. According to one theory, the origin of Ougi was mokkan (wooden slats) combined together with a string running through the hole made on the slats. Ougi was used not only for fanning but also used as a tool for rituals, gift-giving and communication. It is written in The Tale of Genji or other literary works and history records that noblemen in the Heian period (794-1192) wrote waka (poems) or put flowers on Ougi and present it to their loved ones. Among the warrior class, Ougi was considered to be as important as the swords. As Ougi can be folded compactly, it was highly esteemed and spread to the Western countries via China. It is said that Ougi was all the mode in Paris in the 17th century and there were more than 150 Ougi shops there. As the spread shape of Ougi looks like a Japanese Kanji that means “eight” and since in Japan the number eight is considered to be a lucky number, it is also used as a return present at felicitous events.