Paper lanterns (Chochin) are said to appear in Japan at the end of Heian period (794-1185). At that time, they were like slender baskets which can contain fire inside. Later in Edo period (1603-1867) when mass production of candle started, paper lantern became more popular. The form was developed to be able to expand and contract.
Gifu Paper Lanterns production is considered to start in the beginning of Edo era, as a tribute for Tokugawa shogunate through Owari domain. Since there were plenty of raw materials, such as Japanese paper (especially Mino Washi) and bamboos, the production became bigger in the middle of 18th century.
At the beginning of 19th century artisans started to decorate the lanterns with beautiful, elegant drawings. With very thin bones made of bamboo trees, Gifu Paper Lanterns are said to have especially exquisite forms and precise works. The tradition has been succeeded to artisans today.
Gifu Paper Lanterns have meaning of “carry in one’s hand” in its Japanese name, Chochin. As it suggests, Gifu Paper Lanterns are conveyable. However, nowadays this traditional art is mainly used for ceremony of Bon, festival to welcome the spirits of the deceased. Paper lanterns are very important for this event and Bon is even called “lantern festival”.
Decoration of Gifu Paper Lanterns has two paths, one is for paper, and another is for stand. For paper, printing (called “Surikomi”) or hand-drawing (called Etsuke) technique is used. Usually natural flowers are used for designs, and the seven autumn flowers including silver grass, fringed pink, and Chinese bellflower are preferred.
For their stand, artisans draw flowers and plants by whitewashing (painting and piling powdered calcium carbonate, called “Moriage”). Since the bones are very thin, stretching paper on a frame (called “Hari”) is also requires special skill. After the paper is stretched, margins are cut carefully.
In production, each part is taken care of by an artisan who is expertise in the procedure.
Gifu Paper Lanterns was designated as Traditional Craft by METI (Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry) in 1995.