When visiting Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, one cannot miss the Kaminarimon Gate and its huge red paper lantern. But who is behind the creation of this beautiful craft? We set off to meet Norio Yamada, who hand-draws on lanterns.
Asakusa lanterns workshop: Yamazaki-ya Genshichi Chōchin
In Asakusa, it takes two craftsmen to make a lantern. The first one makes the structure of the lantern. The second one paints on it. The Yamazaki-ya Genshichi Chōchin workshop makes Edo hand drawing lamps. It has been in operation for nearly 300 years. This particular skill of writing on lanterns has been passed down there for 8 generations. Today, it is Mr. Norio Yamada who perpetuates the tradition.
The workshop’s main customers are restaurants, bars and boutiques, who have their establishment’s name inscribed on lanterns to hang on their storefronts. But lanterns are also in Japanese culture an object attracting good fortune and luck. This is why Mr. Yamada also receives orders for gifts for children’s birthdays, weddings or festivals.
Writing on the lantern is a delicate process. The style used is called Edo Moji or the Edo Signs, referring to the historical period in which it was created. Since the lanterns are not smooth, the signs cannot be drawn in one stroke. You must first trace the outline of each letter before filling them.
It takes 40 minutes to write a name on a very small lantern and 5 to 6 hours for a larger lantern that requires an inscription on two sides or the design of a coat of arms.
When we ask Mr. Yamada why he dedicated his life to lantern painting, he explained that it came naturally to him, having bathed in this environment since his childhood.
However, this is not the case for all members of the family, since his own father decided not to indulge in it. So, after starting to learn lantern writing for a few months, he decided to switch to a more modern profession.
Mr. Yamada therefore took over after his grandfather. When we ask him who will carry on this know-how after him, he tells us that he does not know yet. Few people want to learn this tough job. However, he hopes that his son, now 6, will develop an interest in this art.
The secret behind the Kaminarimon Asakusa lantern
Kaminarimon and its red lantern are the symbol of the Asakusa district. When visiting Tokyo, one cannot fail to take the iconic souvenir photo. On the front of the lantern are written the characters Kaminarimon 雷 門 and on the back Furaijinmon 風雷 神 門. These symbols refer to the two statues framing the door which represent the god of wind and the god of thunder. Also inscribed on the lantern is the date it was replaced, currently April 2020. A new lantern is usually hanged once every ten years.
But have you ever noticed the little plaque on the back of the lantern? In 1960, the head of the Matsushita Electronics company fell ill and decided to go to Sensoji Temple to pray for his health back. Once he felt better, he decided to donate this lantern. Today you know Matsushita Electronics by its new name, Panasonic. But the name inscribed on the plaque remains the original one to commemorate the roots of the company.
Your own lantern with your name: is it possible?
What could be better than a lantern to decorate your home and give a room a Japanese atmosphere? And what could be better if this lantern is personalized with your first name? If you are interested in your own lantern with your name handwritten by Mr. Yamada, let us know in the comments below this article.
Yamazaki-ya Genshichi Chōchin Store
Address: 2 Chome-9-9 Kaminarimon, Taito City, Tokyo 111-0034
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