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Japanese Lanterns: The Birth of Buddha’s Flame

For hundreds of years, Japanese lanterns have been an extremely prominent fixture of Japanese culture where these traditional forms of illumination have rapidly grown in popularity. The designs of these beautiful products have shifted into extremely distinct and different looks from their Chinese counterparts. With multiple purposes to them, Japanese lanterns play a big part in various festivals and celebrations that take place across the Japanese region. 

History of the Japanese Lanterns

In the 6th Century of the Asuku Period, stone lanterns were introduced to Japan by China to honor Buddha after Buddhism was introduced from the mainland of Asia. In Japan, Buddhism and Shintoism have been co-existing for hundreds of years, ever since the belief landed and it spread over the Asian continent. The strong link between religion and lanterns is the birth of a culturally significant mark. 

Cultural Importance

Japanese lanterns have become entwined with the culture in Japan. These lanterns are frequently associated with religious ceremonies, formal events and celebratory festivals. 
In Japanese culture, the different lanterns symbolise good fortune, joy, and longevity. The common law attached to the Ishidouru lanterns is that they are protectors from evil spirits. The flame within these Japanese lanterns is thought to be sacred as it represents fending off undesirable spirits.

Types of Japanese Lanterns 

The very first Japanese lantern was the Ishidouru. These are outdoor lanterns that tend to be located in gardens, and outside temples or pagodas. They represent the ancient architectural traditions rooted in thousands of generations of Japanese history. These lamps are made using stone, wooden or metal which all honor Buddhism. These types of Japanese lanterns are now cemented in Japanese history with the oldest  Ishidouru being situated in the Nara region of Japan.
Several other Garden Japanese lanterns have come about since the importation of lanterns into the Japanese culture. Japanese folk tend to have these lanterns in their gardens as they are known to protect homes and temples from evil spirits. 
The first significant Japanese lantern that has become iconic for Japanese culture, is the Chōchin lantern. This is seen outside of shrines and temples, and more commonly used to hang outside of Japanese bars and restaurants. These beautiful lanterns are also commonly used within business; showcasing the name of the company upon the striking, stretchy red washi paper in bold, black Shoji calligraphy. Businesses having these lanterns as a regular appearance outside their property brings togetherness to their neighbors and community. Chōchin lanterns are also thought to bring good fortune to the people and businesses they honor. 
The more modern Japanese lantern is the Andon – it’s literal meaning being ‘Lantern’. Typically used for interior purposes, these delicately crafted lanterns create magical atmospheres inside the buildings in which they are placed. The Andon Japanese lantern was the most popular indoor illumination device during the Edo period. Commonly created with a wooden frame and washi paper casing the framing, these lanterns can be considered developments of the Chōchin lantern or Bonbori lantern; both of which are similar in their design. 

Japanese Lantern Festivals 

You will often find Japanese lanterns as the focal point of many festivals and celebrations that take place across the numerous regions of Japan. 
The Toro Nagashi Festival is one of the major ceremonial events in the Japanese calendar, celebrated at the end of Obon. It is a beautifully haunting spectacle, tied with somber origins. The lanterns lit are thought to guide the spirits of lost loved ones home for a short period of time. It’s a common Japanese belief that all human life originates from water, and these meaningful flames represent the lost spirits returning to their aquatic home.
Arguably the biggest Japanese lantern festival in Japan is the Nagasaki Lantern Festival. This show-stopping event in Nagasaki City, is a nod to the strong links and connections China and Japan share. This is to celebrate the Chinese New Year which runs from the end of January to the beginning of February. This is a major winter event in both the Japanese and Chinese calendar. Yearly, it attracts over 1,000,000 people and is known to be an extremely colourful event. 
This festival, situated in Nagasaki City, nurtures a strong trading history with Japan. The lanterns featured throughout this event dress the city in vibrant colours of lighting, oozing the convivial culture of China.
These Japanese lanterns make for magnificent forms of light which are a stunning sight to see when you visit the country. At Atelier Japan, each and every single one of our unique products crafted by our traditional Japanese makers resonates with Japanese culture. While you’re here, why not take a browse of our handcrafted cultural pieces?
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Nomikai: Japanese drinking culture

Nomikai is a common drinking practice that is participated in, all over Japan. Groups of employees from Japanese companies are often found around at night, cheerful and merry and emerging from bars or izakaya from what is known as nomikai, an occasion where employees gather to drink after work. Let’s take a look at the practice of nomikai and why it is so popular amongst the businessmen and women of Japan.

What is it?

Nomikai is a drinking party phenomenon that is very particular to Japanese culture. Nomikai is a huge part of the culture in most places of employment, from schools to nightclubs. These drinking parties are often held in restaurants, bars or izakaya, usually with everyone seated at one large table in a separate section of the venue. Employees are usually expected to participate in some various nomikai, if not all, as it is widely considered a social aspect of work. Such nomikai parties focus on the bond between coworkers as a group, and are not considered private. 
Nomikai are often arranged when there is something to celebrate. Often employees meet up after work to drink together when someone is celebrating the completion of a work goal, a birthday, the departure of a colleague or the arrival of a new team member.

What happens?

Nomikai evenings tend to last for a few hours, during which employees can indulge in as much drinking as they like. In Japan, it’s not considered bad to drink a lot during a nomikai. Any remarks, mistakes or issues made under the influence of alcohol are brushed off as unimportant and won’t affect your bond with colleagues the next day at work. There are sometimes frank and emotional displays between coworkers over nomikai, regardless of position in the company, which may not occur in a normal workplace context: this phenomenon is called bureikō.
A tradition of nomikai is to always let another person pour your drink rather than doing it yourself. Often a younger employee known as kohai will fill the glass of an older employee, senpai. It is also generally regarded as unacceptable to pressure people into drinking alcohol or consuming more of it than they want at nomikai. Participants may drink non-alcoholic beverages at nomikai or leave a glass full to signal that they are not willing to drink any more alcohol.
The point of a nomikai is to bring all work colleagues together. As nomikai begins, the organiser of the party will give a brief welcome speech, followed by the manager who often offers words of reflection or encouragement. This speech is celebrated by a toast and everyone begins to eat and drink. It’s also customary that if there are any new employees or guests that they give a self-introduction to the other team members.
Once celebrations have begun the group then often breaks up into smaller groups where employees who are closer friends will continue the evening at another izakaya or bar. Those who go on to continue celebrating after the nomikai will be a part of a ‘second meeting’ known as nijikai, an after-party of the party where employee presence is no longer mandatory. In some cases, there is also a sanjikai which is a third after-party meeting.
Nomikai is often concluded after a few hours where everyone stands and claps in unison. There are two main styles of clapping: ippon-jime and sanbon-jime. These translate roughly to “one-clap ending” and “three-clap ending”. The ending of the nomikai sometimes happens whilst employees sing the company or school song or with a salute to the organiser, manager or honoured participant.


Bonenkai is a form of end of year nomikai where all company employees are invited and strongly encouraged to attend the ‘gathering to forget the year’. The goal of a bonenkai is to forget any arguments or troubles that have occurred during the year and to celebrate the coming year. Often, the management usually tries to subsidize the price of participation in the bonenkai, in order to encourage as many employees as possible to come.
At Atelier Japan, Japanese culture runs through all our products’. From generation to generation, our makers have devoted time and skill to creating the most unique pieces of Japanese craft for you to enjoy. Visit the Atelier Japan website to find an exquisite range of traditional Japanese tea, pottery, jewellery and silverware and let us bring traditional Japanese design to your home.

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Bushido: The way of warriors

From as early as the eighth century through to modern times, bushido was the code of conduct for Japan’s warrior classes. The word “bushido” comes from the Japanese roots “bushi” meaning “warrior,” and “do” meaning “path” or “way, when translated bushido means “way of the warrior.” Bushido was followed by Japan’s samurai warriors and their precursors in feudal Japan, as well as much of central and east Asia. Let’s take a look at what bushido is, and how it came to be.

What is bushido?

Bushidō is a Japanese collective term for the many codes of honour and ideals that dictated the samurai way of life. Those who follow bushido believe in an elaborate list of virtues including frugality, righteousness, courage, benevolence, respect, sincerity, honour, loyalty, and self-control. 
Bushido focuses on ethics, rather than a religious belief system. In fact, many samurai soldiers believed that they were excluded from any reward in the afterlife or in their next lives, according to the rules of Buddhism, because they were trained to fight and kill in this life. Nevertheless, their honour and loyalty had to sustain them, in the face of the knowledge that they would likely end up in the Buddhist version of hell after they died.
The ideal Samurai warrior was supposed to be immune from the fear of death. With the only fear they had being the fear of dishonour and loyalty to his daimyo, a feudal lord in shogunal Japan, motivated the true samurai. If a samurai felt that he had lost his honour, or was about to lose it, according to the rules of bushido, he could regain his standing by committing a rather painful form of ritual suicide, which was called “seppuku.”

The honourable history of bushido

Many early literary works of Japan talk of warriors, but the term bushido didn’t appear in any text until the Edo period. From the literature of the 13th to 16th centuries, there exists an abundance of references to military ideals, although none of these were viewed as early versions of bushido. During the early modern era, these ideals were vigorously pursued in the upper levels of warrior society, and recommended as the proper form of the Japanese man of arms. The sayings of Sengoku-period retainers and warlords were generally recorded or passed down to posterity around the turn of the 16th century. In a handbook addressed to “all samurai, regardless of rank”, Katō states:
“If a man does not investigate into the matter of bushido daily, it will be difficult for him to die a brave and manly death.”
Between the 16th and 19th century, the samurai class played a central role in the policing and administration of the country. At this time there was bushido literature that contained much thought relevant to a warrior class seeking more general application of martial principles and experience in peacetime, as well as a reflection on the land’s long history of war.

Bushido in modern times

After the samurai ruling class was abolished in the wake of the Meiji Restoration, Japan created a modern conscript army. Although you might think that bushido would fade away, Japanese nationalists and war leaders continued to appeal to this cultural ideal throughout the early 20th century and World War II. Even today the morals of bushido continue to resonate in modern Japanese culture. 

An insight into bushido

  • Righteousness (義 gi)

Be acutely honest throughout your dealings with all people. 

  • Heroic Courage (勇 yū)

Hiding like a turtle in a shell is not living at all. 

  • Benevolence, Compassion (仁 jin)

Through intense training and hard work the true warrior becomes quick and strong.

  • Respect (礼 rei)

True warriors have no reason to be cruel. 

  • Honesty (誠 makoto)

When warriors say that they will perform an action, it is as good as done.

  • Honour (名誉 meiyo)

Warriors have only one judge of honor and character, and this is themselves.

  • Duty and Loyalty (忠義 chūgi)

Warriors are responsible for everything that they have done and everything that they have said and all of the consequences that follow.

  • Self-Control (自制 jisei)

There are many areas of Japanese culture that have come and gone, but some, like bushido, have stayed for generations. Atelier Japan aims to keep traditional Japanese craft alive for as long as possible. Visit our website to browse our collection of handcrafted tea, silverware, pottery, jewellery and fans, and add a piece of Japanese history to your home.

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Karate: An ancient art

Karate is a martial art that was developed in the Ryukyu Kingdom, in what is now known as the Okinawa Prefecture. Developed from the indigenous Ryukyuan martial arts under the influence of Kung Fu, karate has an incredible history and has come far over the last few years. Let’s take a look at this ancient martial art practice and how it has come to be so popular all over the globe.

What is Karate?

Karate is now predominantly a striking art, using punching, kicking, knee strikes, elbow strikes and open-hand techniques such as knife-hands, spear-hands and palm-heel strikes. Historically, and in some modern styles, grappling, throws, joint locks, restraints and vital-point strikes are also taught. Karate is a form of self-defence and was created at a time when weapons were banned by invading Japanese forces.
Karate has three main sections to be mastered when training, these are:

  • Kihon, learning the basic techniques or fundamentals;
  • Kata, the training of form and the specific order and way of using techniques;
  • And Kumite, which is to learn how to fight using those techniques.

A long history

In its current form, karate is less than 200 years old, however it has roots that date back thousands of years. The art originated on the island of Okinawa and in its early form was heavily influenced by ancient Chinese martial arts, collectively known as Kung Fu. 
Very little is known of where the exact origins of karate came from before it appeared, but one popular theory states that it came from India over a thousand years ago and was brought to China by a Buddhist monk called Bodhidarma (“daruma” in Japanese). This ancient legend suggests that Bodhidarma arrived in Shaolinsi and began teaching Zen Buddhism, a style of temple boxing based on exercises designed to strengthen the mind and body. 
During the early 1900s, Gichin Funakoshi, a school teacher from the island of Okinawa, introduced karate to mainland Japan where it started to become more popular year after year. Karate became especially popular in the 1960s and 1970s because of westernised karate movies and by the late 1970s, martial arts films had formed a mainstream genre. Karate schools then began appearing all over the world, catering to those with casual interest as well as those seeking a deeper study of the art. By 2015, karate was featured on a shortlist along with baseball, softball, skateboarding, surfing, and sport climbing to be considered for inclusion in the 2020 Summer Olympics. In 2016, the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board announced they were supporting the inclusion of all five sports 

Culture in combat

Karate is a non-contact and unarmed martial arts discipline, employing kicking, striking, and defensive blocking with arms and legs. People who engage in karate often practice their techniques by executing blows against padded surfaces or wood. Pine boards up to several inches in thickness can even be broken by the bare hand or foot of a karate expert. Timing, tactics, and spirit, however, are also considered just as important as physical strength.

All about the outfit

One thing that most people think of when they hear karate is the outfit. When individuals practise karate, they wear special clothes called a karategi. The karategi is made up of a white jacket, white trousers and often a coloured belt with the purpose of displaying the student’s rank. In karate, the belt symbolises how long you have trained rather than how good you are. It’s interesting to note that different schools of Karate have different colours of belts for their ranks, but typically black belts are of the highest rank.
At Atelier Japan, we believe in preserving Japanese culture. Our brand is home to the finest traditional Japnese products that have been handcrafted by artisanal makers all across Japan to share with those interested in the culture and process of each collection. Explore Atelier Japan to discover our range of history and heritage-filled collections of tea, fans, silverware, pottery and jewellery.

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Unique Traditions: Celebrating a Japanese birthday

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, age makes all the difference. In Western culture, your birthday is the one day of the year where everything is about you, but celebrating a Japanese birthday is influenced by how old you are. 

A joyful history

Birthdays are acknowledged and celebrated in Japan, however, at first they weren’t celebrated until after the Second World War. After the 1950s there was a great influx of American and Western cultures such as fashion, food and celebrations such as Christmas, meaning that birthday celebrations soon became the norm. Celebrating a Japanese birthday didn’t occur as Japan generally focuses on the group rather than the individual and birthdays were seen as a more personal and private affair.
The concept of celebrating the day you were born was initially a foreign concept to the Japanese. Before, the Japanese had only one ‘birthday’, which was the New Year’s Day, since everyone believed that they got older on that day and celebrated together. New Year remains a very special day in Japan and the old custom of giving children and teenagers money as a congratulatory gift still remains, however, a Japanese birthday is now a popular occasion.

Children’s Japanese birthday

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, it’s children who steal the limelight. Parents organise a small gathering, a cake – usually, a white Victoria sponge with cream is customary – and the number of candles depends on how old the birthday boy or girl is turning. There is no birthday song, so the traditional English version is sung, in English, when the candles are blown out, similar to Western traditions.

Adult birthdays

When it comes to celebrating a Japanese birthday, celebrations don’t stop completely when turning 18. When arranging a birthday, often individuals don’t organise or pay for them. It is customary for friends to organise a party for the one who has a birthday, and all bills are covered by the guests, in order to let the person whose birthday it is enjoy the day without worrying about money. Here, paying for the event counts as a form of group gift.
Many Japanese couples tend to reserve their actual birthday day for their partners. Generally, they go on a date and spend the day or evening together to celebrate. When it comes to buying gifts for a birthday, accessories are favoured gifts and are popular as they can be worn practically every day and can remind the recipient of their significant other.

Japanese birthday festivals

Aside from normal birthdays and New Year, there are several special days throughout the year that celebrate getting older. 7-5-3 day is where girls aged seven and three and boys aged five and three are dressed in kimonos and taken to shrines to pray for health and a long, happy life. When celebrating this birthday, the children are also given a chitose ame, or thousand-year candy, to wish for a thousand years of health. 
Another birthday that is celebrated is the Coming of Age Day which focuses on Japanese youths reaching adulthood at the age of 20. This Japanese birthday is held on the second Monday of January and you will find young people dressing in suits or kimonos when they go to the office to be officially recognised as adults. On this Japanese birthday, young people will usually celebrate by going out drinking with friends, as 20 is the age that you can legally drink in Japan, as well as vote.
Japan has been influenced by Western culture for many decades but a lot of its tradition and culture still remains. Whether it’s celebrating a birthday or enjoying their culture, there are lots of ways Japan has changed due to Western influences. From sake to silverware, fans to fashion, Japan is driven by influence, culture and its artistic nature. At Atelier Japan, our collection of traditional Japanese products is just waiting to be discovered, browse our makers to explore our range of luxury handcrafted Japanese goods that would make the perfect gift for any Japanese birthday.
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Cat Cafes: Finding a furry friend

Cat cafes, also known as Neko Cafes, are a type of Japanese coffee shop where people can play with cats that roam freely around the venue. These cafes can be found in most major cities in Japan; they are often not located at street level but on higher floors in multi-story buildings and not always easily found. Cat cafes have really taken off in Japan in the past few years, spreading to countries all across the world including England, Austria and America. Let’s take a look at what makes cat cafes so popular in Japan and how you can enjoy them.

Where it started

In Japan, pet ownership is difficult due to their small living quarters, strict rental agreements and busy lifestyles, which is why cat cafes have become so popular with locals in Japan as well as overseas visitors and tourists who enjoy the company of felines. These cafes are incredibly popular, you may not need to book when visiting but it may be worthwhile calling ahead when visiting the cafes that are more popular than most. 
As of 2015, Tokyo was home to 58 cat cafes, the first of which opened back in 2005. There are varying types of cat cafes across Japan with some featuring specific categories such as black cats, fat cats and rare-breeds – there is even a cafe in Tokyo that added goats as a unique way of bringing in customers. These cafes operate under strict rules to ensure cleanliness and animal welfare, and that the cats are not disturbed by excessive and unwanted attention, such as by young children or when sleeping. Most cat cafes seek to raise awareness of cat welfare issues such as those that are abandoned and stray.

Enjoying cat cafes

Cat cafes charge customers based on their time spent in the cafe at around 200 yen per ten minutes. Most cafes allow you to purchase cat treats and at some places, additional charges apply to food and drinks for humans. Power outlets are also available at many of the cafes for patrons to charge their electronic devices, while others provide complimentary magazines and comic books as well as massage chairs for their customers to use during their visit, it depends on which cat cafe you choose to visit. Simple English explanations and instructions are available at many cat cafes in Japan, either in written form or conducted by the staff making it an experience that can be enjoyed by all. 

Rules for cat cafes

When enjoying a cat cafe, it’s important to remember that there are still rules to stick to. As you enter cat cafes there is a typical procedure that you should follow:

  • You can register at the entrance, where your starting time will be recorded.
  • You will be asked to remove your footwear and change into the provided indoor slippers.
  • You will then need to sanitize hands with alcohol spray before moving to where the cats are. Customers are free to pick any vacant spot and move around the cat cafe to play with the animals. Food and drinks can also be ordered once you decide on a seat. Cat toys are also provided at the cafe and free to use.
  • After having your fill of playing with the cats, you can return to the entrance where you will pay for the time spent there and anything else you may have ordered, such as food and drink.

Each cat cafe will have its own rules that need to be followed, but more often than not they are similar. Most places will allow you to pet the cats but you aren’t allowed to pick them up unless a cat comes on its own accord. Cat cafes often offer treats to give to cats as they must not be fed with outside food. When in the cafe, you will be more than welcome to take pictures of the cafe and the cats as long as you don’t use your flash.
At Atelier Japan, we want everyone to explore the intricate nature of Japanese culture. From our handcrafted inlay jewellery to our fans that have been produced using ancient techniques, there is a piece of Japanese culture in each and every product in our collection. Visit the Atelier Japan collections to browse our auspicious products and purchase your own piece of Japanese craft.
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Japanese Flowers: A bespoke identity

Throughout history, Japanese flowers have been used as a form of unspoken communication. This art of using Japanese flowers to communicate is known as hanakotoba, where Japanese flowers and plants are given codes and passwords that are meant to convey emotion and communicate directly to the recipient or viewer without the use of words. Let’s take a look at some unique Japanese flowers and their identities.

Camellia / Tsubaki

Camellias are early spring flowers that are native to Asia. These Japanese flowers were incredibly popular with nobles during the Edo Period, as amongst warriors and samurai, the red camellia symbolised a noble death. The camellia does have other meanings, too. These Japanese flowers also symbolise love, however, it is custom not to give these Japanese flowers to someone who is sick or injured due to the nature of these flowers ‘beheading’ themselves when they die.

Chrysanthemum / Kiku

Chrysanthemums are Japanese flowers native to both Asia and Europe and are known as kiku in Japanese. As a motif, chrysanthemums are perfectly round and are one of the most recognisable Japanese flowers. Chrysanthemums have incredibly noble connotations and are often found on the Japanese Imperial Family’s crest. In society, chrysanthemums indicate purity, grief, and truth, and are often used for funerals.

Wisteria / Fuji

Wisteria or fuji, are auspicious purple flowers that grow on woody trailing vines. These Japanese flowers are a popular spring motif, especially for traditional fashions such as the kimono. Throughout history, wisteria has been associated with nobility as commoners were forbidden from wearing the colour purple.

Red spider lily / Higanbana

Red spider lilies are bright Japanese flowers found in the summer throughout Asia. They are associated with final goodbyes as Japanese legends suggest that these flowers grow wherever people part ways. In ancient Buddhist writings, it is claimed that the red spider lily guides the death through samsara, known as the cycle of rebirth and because of this, these flowers are often used for funerals, but they can also be used for decoration without connotations.

Cherry Blossom / Sakura

Cherry blossom is of Japan’s most renown and popular flowers. Cherry blossom, also known as sakura is a Japanese flower that represents springtime. In the literary sense, cherry blossom is meant to symbolise fleeting beauty and the brevity of life. In the secret method of communication, hanakotoba, these Japanese flowers indicate a pure and gentle heart. Cherry blossom can be found in a variety of things from food to cosmetics due to its popular and beloved nature.

Sunflower / Himawari

Sunflowers used to be native to North America, but can now be found around the world, including Japan. These bright and cheery flowers were brought to Japan hundreds of years ago. As you may have guessed, these flowers symbolise radiance in the language of hanakotoba as well as respect.

Sweet pea / Suitopi

Sweet pea flowers are native to Italy and only arrived in Japan at the turn of the 20th century. Until recently, in hanakotoba, the sweet pea was known to mean goodbye. Today, these flowers have mostly lost their symbolism and are now a popular bouquet flower that is sold from winter to spring.

Plum blossom / Ume

The ume or Chinese plum tree is native to China. The plum tree is more closely related to that of the apricot tree, where the fruit of these trees is sometimes referred to as Japanese apricots. In the old communication of hanakotoba, these Japanese flowers indicated elegance and loyalty. Partnered with the popular cherry blossom, these Japanese flowers bloom in spring just before the appearance of sakura.

Daffodil / Suisen

Daffodils, also known as suisen are native to Europe and Northern Africa. These flowers arrived in Japan almost 700 years ago and now grow wild in certain areas. These flowers are incredibly unusual, blooming from late December through to February. In hanakotoba, daffodils represent respect. 
At Atelier Japan, our skilled craftsmen and makers carefully create each piece of our auspicious collection to bring you authentic Japanese craft and immersive designs. Visit the Atelier Japan collections to discover our unique Japanese teas, silverware, fans, jewellery and pottery for you to enjoy.
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Japanese Masks: A unique identity

Japan is famous for its impressive theatre and performance, both of which often incorporate the use of unique Japanese masks. Along with often being used in theatre, traditional Japanese masks are mainly decorative and are usually available to purchase at shrine festivals and events. Japanese masks have long been connected to folk myths and tails with many of them representing people, creatures, devils, ghosts, and animals. Some traditional masks include; Gigaku, Bugaku, Gyodo, Tengu, Kappa, Noh, Kyōgen, Shinto, Kagura, Kitsune, Hyottoko, Oni, Kabuki, Samurai, Kendo and Animegao. Let’s take a look at some of these unique masks, their meaning and why they are so widely used across Japan.

Gigaku masks

Gigaku Japanese masks are some of the most traditional of Japanese masks. These masks were often used in dance-drama as an art form which longer exists today. These unique masks were designed to represent the face of superhuman, demon, lion or bird and were handcrafted from wood. Alongside Gigaku, there were also Bugaku masks; another traditional Japanese mask also used in dance-drama which featured moveable jaws.

Gyodo masks

Japanese masks such as the Gyodo are used to represent traditional Buddhist figures and are often used for outdoor Buddhist processions. The name of these masks represents three distinct ceremonies: ritual of temple buildings or images while chanting sutras, masked processions during memorial services, and, in Pure Land Buddhism, reenactments of the descent of Amida.

Oni masks

Oni are demons and can be found on many Japanese masks, they are usually depicted as red-faced and angry with long sharp teeth. Oni masks are most common during the Bean-Throwing Festival, also known as Setsubun, when people wear them for festival performances at shrines.

Tengu masks

Tengu are the fearsome demi-gods who protect the mountains. These Japanese masks depict red faces and angry expressions, but their most obvious feature is a long, red nose. In the past, Tengu were more birdlike, as they became human, the beak turned into a nose but kept its long shape. These Japanese masks are used for Noh stage plays and at certain Shinto festivals. They’re also often used as a decoration since the Tengu are thought to frighten bad spirits and bring good luck.

Kitsune masks 

Japanese masks often represent animals, and the Kitsune mask is a popular Japanese mask that takes on the form of a fox. This type of mask has strong links to Japanese culture,  where the fox is known to possess different personalities; it can be good or evil depending on the situation and in Shinto religion, the Fox is a messenger of the god Inari, the protector of rice, agriculture, and fertility. These Japanese masks are worn by participants in certain Shinto festivals or by attendees to join in.

Kabuki masks

Kabuki is a modern Japanese theatre art form which uses a whole host of Japanese masks in its performances. Kabuki masks have replaced more classical ones with painted faces and make-up using ingredients such as rice powder to create a white base for mask-like make-up. Make-up is used to exaggerate and enhance facial lines with the designs incorporating different colours, each with their own representations much like other Japanese masks. Purple lines represent nobility while green lines represent the supernatural, and red lines represent passion, hedonism, and other positive things. Blue or black lines represent jealousy, villainy, and other negative sentiments.

Noh & Kyogen masks

As part of Kabuki theatre, there is also a range of Japanese masks that are used amongst Noh and Kyogen performances. Kyogen is often performed as comic relief during the intermissions of Noh theatre, a typically more serious and solemn performance, where a range of masks are used. In Kyogen, actors performing non-human roles wear masks, and in Noh, masks are even more common, with hundreds of different styles and designs available for actors to use.
At Atelier Japan, we showcase Japanese culture and traditions through our beautiful collection of Japanese fans, tea, pottery and jewellery, all of which make the perfect addition to any celebration or your interior design. Browse our collection to find something just as unique and expertly crafted as traditional Japanese masks.
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Japanese Instruments: The sound of Japan's history

There are a whole host of traditional Japanese instruments used to play Japan’s traditional selections of music. Traditional Japanese instruments are musical instruments often used in the traditional and folk music of Japan. They comprise a range of string, wind, and percussion instruments, from those that were invented in Japan to others that have evolved and developed into Japanese instruments and varieties over time after arriving from other countries such as China. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular Japanese instruments and why people enjoy their sound and feel so much.


When it comes to Japanese instruments made from string, the koto is the most popular choice. These Japanese instruments come in a variety of shapes and structures. Most types of kotos consist of a body made from wood accentuated by strings which are stretched across the middle that are plucked with a pick or with fingers and nails to play the music. The koto was an instrument that was favoured by Japanese aristocrats and was often used for entertainment, however, since the arrival of the Heian era, it has become an instrument used mostly for religious ceremonies and festivals.


Japanese instruments can take on many different forms. The taisho-goto is an instrument that comprises of strings, similar to a guitar and buttons that are used to change key. While  Japanese instruments generally use silk strings, the Taisho-goto uses metal strings and is constructed to produce notes of the Western 12-note scale on its keyboard.


The percussion famiy is home to a whole host of popular Japanese instruments. Wadaiko is a popular type of Japanese drum that is crafted by stretching leather skin over a wooden body, and releases sound when the skin is struck with varying levels of force. In Japan today, wadaiko are used mostly for religious festivals, kabuki and noh performances, ceremonies at shrines and temples, and during summer festivals.


Alongside string and percussion instruments, Japan is also known for popular Japanese instruments that belong to the wind family. The nohkan is a type of flute that is used during noh performances, along with the kotsuzumi, otsuzumi, and taiko. The nohkan, is the only melodic instrument used on stage during noh performances and creates a unique sound that produces a feeling of tension. 


The biwa is a plucked string instrument that was first popular in China and then spread throughout East Asia. These unique Japanese instruments are said to have arrived in Japan from China during the Nara period. The instrument is comprised of a water-drop shaped body with a handle, and while there are generally 4 strings, 5-stringed varieties also exist.


Many Japanese instruments come from ancient tribes and cultures from all over the country. The Ainu are an indigenous people that live in Hokkaido, the northernmost region of Japan. The mukkuri is a simple instrument used by the Ainu that consists only of a piece of bamboo with a string attached. The indigenous Ainu people, who fear otherworldly beings and revere nature, would play the mukkuri while residing in the forests.


Japanese instruments can often be found in traditional Japanese shrines. The kagura-suzu, is a type of bell that is rung as a way of purification and invoking the divine spirit. The miko , the shrine maiden, uses this instrument as she dances the traditional kagura-mai dance. The kagura-suzu has a clear and dignified sound as it is often used during Shinto rituals.


Sanshins are stringed Japanese instruments that are used in Okinawa. The Sanshin consists of a wooden body with a section of snakeskin, in which three strings of differing thickness are plucked to produce music. If you want to hear the unique sound of the sanshin it is recommended that you visit restaurants that serve Okinawan cuisine in large cities like Tokyo, as sometimes you will be lucky enough to hear the sanshin. 
Much like the craft that goes into creating Japanese instruments, at Atelier Japan all of our pieces are handcrafted by the most skilful artisans, encapsulating true detail and design. From fans and jewellery to pottery and tea, our collections are as bespoke as their designer. Visit the Atelier Japan website to browse our unique pieces and add a touch of traditional craft to your life.
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Onsen: Relaxing with a auspacious view

An onsen is a Japanese hot spring, with the term also extending to cover the bathing facilities and traditional inns frequently placed and enjoyed around a hot spring. As a volcanically active country, Japan has thousands of onsen scattered throughout all of its major islands. Onsen come in many types and shapes, including outdoor and indoor baths. Onsen baths may be either publicly run by a municipality or privately, often as part of a hotel, ryokan, or bed and breakfast. Let’s take a look at some onsen etiquette and how you can kick back and relax in one of Japan’s natural hot springs.


One thing to note about onsen if you haven’t encountered them before is the dress code. Sometimes being the factor that puts individuals off visiting onsen can be the no swimwear policy. You may be anxious at first, but once you have bared all, it doesn’t take long to get used to it. For those who fancy something more private, there are many traditional ryokan inns where the guest rooms have private rotenburo baths attached and in some inns, public baths are available for private use upon request. Another onsen alternative is to visit a bath that has predominantly milky water, meaning visibility is limited.


Cleanliness is a large part of the Japanese onsen experience. The idea of Western practices of washing yourself in a bath is seen as unhygienic in the eyes of the Japanese. When visiting a communal sento or onsen it’s important to keep the water as clean as possible, which means showering before entering the spring. 
Every onsen in Japan has a row of showers that go around the outside of the bath. Soaps, shampoos, and conditioners are usually provided, though you can also bring your own if you choose. It’s key to remember that you are expected to sit down using one of the stools provided whilst you wash; it’s considered bad manners to stand whilst you wash, as you could splash someone next to you. It’s also important to ensure that you rinse thoroughly to ensure that no soap enters the bathwater. Although not as important, locals sometimes rinse themselves under the shower after soaking in the onsen or if they are returning from a sauna or steam room.

Entering the water

To ensure that the onsen is as clean as possible, it’s important to know that if you have long hair, you will be required to tie it up or wrap it in a small towel. Although you are encouraged to wash your hair in the shower beforehand, this is to maintain the cleanliness of the onsen by ensuring that hair doesn’t get into the water. Even if your hair is short, you are advised against putting your head under the water to avoid being exposed to any bacteria that could cause infection.


At any onsen in Japan, you will be given a small and a large towel, alternatively, there will be a choice to rent or sometimes you can bring your own. Large towels are used for drying yourself and should be kept in the changing room, whilst the small towel is used for washing and can be taken into the communal bathing area. You can even take your small towel into the bath with you, but you mustn’t let it enter the water, so many guests keep their small towels on their head whilst relaxing in the onsen.


Tattoos can be seen as something of a taboo in Japan, which means that most onsen across the country has a ban on tattoos. If you have an unnoticeable or small tattoo, you may be able to enter the onsen if you cover it with a plaster or bandage. If you have larger tattoos that are difficult to cover, you may not be allowed to enter. However, if you really wanted to try out these hot springs, you could visit ryokan inns where there are private rotenburo baths or onsen that can be rented for private use.
At Atelier Japan, we encourage our customers to explore Japanese culture. From our handcrafted inlay jewellery to our fans that have been produced using ancient techniques, there is a piece of Japanese culture in each and every product in our collection. Visit the Atelier Japan website to browse our auspacious products and purchase your own piece of Japanese craft.
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