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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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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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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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Matsuri Festivals: All there is to know about Japanese New Year

The Japanese New Year is far from shy when it comes to its celebrations. From food to fukubukuro, mochi to money, there are lots of traditions, celebrations and cultural practices that take place to welcome in the Japanese New Year. Japanese New Year is referred to as ‘Shōgatsu’ or ‘Oshōgatsu’ in Japan and is celebrated from December 31st until January 4th to give time for everyone to partake in the full variety of celebrations.

Osechi Ryori

As with lots of traditional Japanese festivals and celebrations, food is adapted and made to play a large role in the Japanese New Year celebrations. The food eaten during the New Year is referred to as ‘Osechi Ryori’. Traditionally, the food that is eaten is prepared similarly to that of a bento box. The Osechi Ryori is packed in 2-3 layers of lacquer boxes with many dishes lying in each layer. The multi-tiered nature of the boxes is meant to symbolise the hope that happiness and wealth will come continuously after the Japanese New Year, just like the layers of lacquerware. During the Japanese New Year, a wide selection of dishes are enjoyed during the celebrations that incorporate a variety of sweet, sour and dried foods. This choice of food is representative of past culinary Japanese traditions before households had refrigerators and when stores were closed for the holidays. The type of food showcased over the Japanese New Year differs from region to region, with each place having their own variations on traditional dishes and ingredients. The most traditional dishes to be eaten through the Japanese New Year include soup with mochi rice cake and sushi.


One of the most interesting Japanese New Year traditions is the handing of money in an envelope to children, a tradition known as ‘Otoshidama’. During this tradition, money is given to the children in small decorative envelopes called ‘pochibukuro’. The amount of money that is given depends on the age of the child, though it is usually kept the same to remain fair if there is more than one child, with the value often being around ¥5,000, approximately £35. During the Edo period, large stores and wealthy families celebrated the Japanese New Year by giving out small bags of mochi and mandarin oranges to locals to help spread happiness during the New Year celebrations.


Throughout the Japanese New Year, there are many sources of entertainment to participate in. Games like kite flying, spinning tops and karuta (a card game introduced to Japan by Portuguese traders during the mid 16th century) are customary Japanese New year games. Another form of entertainment takes place on New Years Day when the final of the Emperor’s Cup takes place in the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo; a tradition which has taken place on New Years Day since 1969. Similarly to Western culture, there are also a lot of television shows created as end-of-year and beginning-of-year specials for people to enjoy with their families at home.


Koshōgatsu, or ‘the Little New Year’, is when the people of Japan celebrate the first full moon of the Japanese New Year, usually on the 15th day of the first lunar month. The main events of the Little New Year are the practices of praying for a bountiful harvest where rice gruel and adzuki beans are eaten. The involvement of eating rice is part of the rice gruel divination ceremony, a prediction of the year’s harvest based upon the number of grains that adhere to a stick. The Little New Year is also when the Japanese New Year decorations are taken down as the celebrations come to an end.


Hatsumode is one of the more traditional Japanese New Year customs, it is the first shrine visit of the New Year. Many people visit a shrine on either the 1st, 2nd or 3rd of January in order to pay their respects and wish for a happy and healthy New Year. Hatsumode is a family event with many choosing to visit the shrines together. Another cultural tradition of the Japanese New Year is bell ringing. On New Year’s Eve, Buddhist temples all across Japan ring their bells 108 times to symbolise the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief. Many Japanese people believe that the ringing of the bells can rid them of their sins from the previous year.
At Atelier Japan, we showcase the Japanese culture through our beautiful collection of Japanese fans, tea, pottery and jewellery, which all make the perfect addition to any celebration. Browse our collection to find something to help you celebrate Japanese New Year wherever you are.

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Festivals in Kyoto

There are three main festivals that stand out in Kyoto’s calendar, all of which are highly anticipated. However, this vibrant and bustling city is host to many celebrations, all significant in their own way. Though most are holidays celebrated by the whole of Japan, there are special ways that Kyoto makes these events their own.

New Year’s in Kyoto
New Year is a hugely significant holiday in Japan, and has as much anticipation and build-up as Christmas in Western cultures. Only around 1% of Japan’s population are Christian, so Christmas is not a major holiday in traditional Japanese culture and is mainly celebrated commercially. New Year’s, however, is considered the major event of the year’s calendar, with celebratory feasting and gatherings of friends and family taking place. After the traditional meal on New Year’s Eve, many people in Kyoto will go to their local temple to pray for the New Year and act out the ceremonial bell ringing (joya-no-kane). It is traditional for the bell to eventually be rung 108 times because this number symbolises the sins of the flesh. From New Year’s Eve until the third of January at the latest, the people of Kyoto will visit their nearest shrine and pray for good fortune of the coming year. This ceremony is called Hatsumode, and this is the first shrine visit of the year, making it very important.

Ebisu is one of the Shichifukujin, the seven lucky gods, and is in fact the only member who is purely Japanese in origin, with the others taking their roots from Chinese or Hindu influence. In Kyoto between January 8th and 10th, the residents of Kyoto visit the Ebisu-jinja shrine. The evenings are generally considered to be the opportune time to make this visit as that is when it is most lively. As Ebisu-san is the god of prosperity, it is customary to put some money in the donation box before praying to him. After ringing the gong and saying a prayer, the devotee then goes around to the right side of the main hall and knocks on the board found there and repeats their prayers. This is because Ebisu is famously hard of hearing, as he is an old god, so this is to make sure that he is awake to listen to you.
Celebrations of the Geisha

As discussed in some of our other blogs, Geisha are an essential part of Kyoto’s cultural history and set this city apart from others in Japan. From mid-March to mid-May, there are several important occasions for the Geisha of Kyoto. The Kitano Odori is the dance that is performed between March 25th and 31st and involves each of Kyoto’s five Geisha districts. This is followed by the Kyo Odori dance, famously performed by the Miyagawa-cho Geisha district, and the main dance of April which celebrates the Sakura season, the Miyako Odori. These April dances are beautifully complemented by the illuminated temple gardens, specially decorated for this time of year.
The Matsuri Festivals

The Aoi Matsuri, Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri festivals are the three main festivals of Kyoto. The word Matsuri literally translates to ‘traditional festival’ in Japanese, after all, it is widely known that Japan is a country that takes their traditional history and culture very seriously. The Aoi Matsuri, also referred to as the Kamo festival, comes about on May 15th annually and derives its name from the hollyhock leaves used for decoration throughout this festival. These leaves were initially used because they were believed to ward against natural disasters, which were most likely common during the rule of Emperor Kinmei (539-571 CE), during whose reign the festival is thought to originate. It wasn’t until the 9th century that the Aoi Matsuri was established as an annual imperial holiday by Emperor Kanmu of the Heian period, to protect the capital. Still today, hundreds of participants dress up in the traditional clothing of this era and parade from the Kyoto Imperial Palace to the Kamo Shrines, Shimogamo and Kamigamo.


The Gion Matsuri takes place in July, with parades on the 17th and 24th of the month. Originating as part of a ritual of purification to appease the gods of fire, earthquakes and floods, the Gion district of Kyoto is where this festival takes its name from. Although this festival dates back to the 6th century, by the Kamakura period (1185-1333), it became a way for craft merchants to showcase their creations and good fortune. The highlight of Gion Matsuri is the Yoiyama parade and its floats, known as Yamaboko. These floats are beautifully decorated with tapestries and lanterns and carry around traditionally trained musicians and artists.
The Jidai Matsuri occurs on October 22nd and involves a portable shrine, a Mikoshi, and about two thousand participants dressed up in different costumes of Kyoto’s traditional history, including that of samurai. The Mikoshi is carried from the Kyoto Imperial Palace early in the morning accompanied by a military band in costume. Ending at the Heian Shrine, this festival portrays the rich and fascinating traditional history of Kyoto.

Tradition on Atelier Japan
All of the products featured on Atelier Japan draw on and are inspired by the distinguished traditional culture of Japan. Festivals and national holidays are just one part of this rich history, and our makers, Komaruya, have crafted an array of flawless festival fans such as the Aoi Festival Fan to purchase at Atelier Japan and bring this culture into your own home.