My love of Japanese lanterns


Pontocho alley lanterns, KyotoAlong with my thing for Japanese spoons, I also love Japanese lanterns. I was fascinated by them from the moment we first arrived in Japan and was desperate to read the beautiful Japanese script written down the length of each and every one.

We moved to Tokyo in 2008 for The Rock Climber’s job. It was never somewhere I had ever had much desire to visit, but having lived there for almost 4 years it is somewhere I still think of daily and think everyone should visit if they get the opportunity. I am always hard pressed to describe what it is about Tokyo and Japan in general, that I love so much as it is a difficult place to describe. For me it’s a visual thing, but much more in the detail rather than as a whole. It’s what’s happening at street level. So for me when I think of Japan or am asked to describe Japan, it is the exotic paper lanterns that are foremost in my mind.


soba noddle lantern in Kyoto




The script on this vibrant lantern says that this is a hand-made soba restaurant “te uchi soba”.








Paper lantern udon restaurant




It was the lantern I spotted outside this udon restaurant in Kyoto that made me go inside and have dinner and very delicious it was too.











Geiko and lantern in Kyoto




While in Kyoto I was lucky enough to see a geisha (or geiko as they are called in Kyoto), walking passed this enormous lantern!








Noodle restaurant lantern Kyoto




A red lantern outside a restaurant generally indicates it is a cheap and cheerful restaurant. But there are millions of lanterns all over Japan in a multitude of sizes, predominantly coloured red, black and white. Traditionally the lanterns are made of washi paper, so to protect them from the rain they are often covered in plastic. It doesn’t make them look quite as beautiful but it’s practical.







open restaurant lantern in Tokyo


Early on in our time living in Tokyo I found a shop that sold old Japanese lanterns and decided that I would buy one when we knew we were leaving – I thought it would be strange to have a restaurant lantern in our house while we lived there. So more than three years later, when I found out our time in Tokyo was drawing to a close I headed back to the shop all set to buy a lantern, accompanied by my Japanese friend Yuko.  I had re-visited the shop many times over the years just because I loved the shop so much. Even though I had mastered a fair bit of Japanese I decided that I’d let Yuko do the talking and that’s when I found out that all these beautiful old lanterns weren’t actually for sale – even though they all had price tags on. They were simply examples of what you could buy BRAND NEW! I was devastated, but the shop keeper thought it highly amusing that some crazy foreigner wanted to buy some raggedy old, torn paper lantern. In the end I settled for this new black and white one and much to the amusement of my Japanese friends, I proudly displayed it at home for our final weeks. And what does it say – ‘eigyo cho’ which translates as ‘open for service’!


Square Japanese lantern



This lantern is another treasured possession that I found in an antique shop. The script on it is very old and even my Japanese friends couldn’t read it, so I shall never know what it says.

In our Sydney home my lanterns sit on an old red Japanese cupboard but when we eat outside I take all my lanterns and hang them in the trees, I’m not sure what I’ll do if a Japanese person walks by and thinks we’re ‘open for service’!      ***





1 Comment

  1. Gorgeous images!

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