Several cities in Gifu Prefecture are collaborating to create “Made in Gifu” andon lanterns that showcase special crafts dear to each one, from Mino’s Honminoshi paper products to the Tono region’s Minoyaki pottery, used to make the base.
They are also hoping to market the lanterns products abroad, especially since Honminoshi, a traditional paper-making art, was recently added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.
The andon have an oval profile and are about 50 cm tall. Powered by an LED light within, they are slimmer and taller than the traditional chochin paper lanterns produced in and around the capital.
When illuminated, pink sakura (cherry blossom) and light purple clematis show softly on the paper’s surface.
The andon are made by Ozeki & Co., based in the capital.
“Only Honminoshi, made by hand using only mulberry tree pulp as raw material, can achieve the softness of the texture,” said Morihiro Ozeki, 63, the company’s president.
Recognized in 1995 as a traditional craft by what is now the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Gifu lanterns are traditionally used during the Bon festival in August, when Japanese honor their ancestors by visiting and cleaning their graves.
However, demand has been on the decline for the past two decades as fewer people practice the tradition of carrying the lanterns to the graves, or sending them as gifts to relatives and business partners.
Lantern shipments in Gifu Prefecture peaked at ¥6.1 billion in 1992, but came in at ¥3.8 billion in 2013.
Their practical usage as lighting equipment has been declining since the Meiji Era, and now they are produced mainly as art pieces. A popular paper lantern made in Fukuoka Prefecture, the Yame, is suffering the same plight.
Ozeki finally decided to “develop a product that matches the modern lifestyle” and approached Shin Okada, 39, designer and associate professor at Daido University in Nagoya, two years ago. His goal: to design lanterns that can be used in non-Japanese rooms.
Last November they decided to use Honminoshi instead of machine-made paper and to incorporate Mino pottery after receiving the good news about its registration as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.
“A new product will help to increase the recognition of Honminoshi,” said an official at a studio in Mino that provides the paper.
“There had been a lot of trial and error since we’ve never created anything like this, but I hope we can make a great product that combines the strengths of each craft,” added an official from Shinzankama Yamatsu, which is in charge of making the base of the lantern.
Ozeki has been producing and exporting lighting equipment called Akari (light) designed by the late, famed sculptor Isamu Noguchi. Noguchi got the idea from Gifu’s chochin.
“The gentle light emitted through washi (traditional Japanese paper) has proven successful in Europe,” said Ozeki, who hopes to take the new line of products overseas as well.
Ever since the UNESCO announcement, more than 10 companies that manufacture Gifu lanterns have been developing new products using Honminoshi.
However, there are few craftsmen who have mastered the technique of creating handmade paper, and they are struggling to meet the surge in demand.
“Our mission is to increase the recognition by using Honminoshi paper for lanterns, which will help young craftsmen make a living and hone their skills,” said Kosuke Ando, 60, president of Ando Shoten.
This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published May 14.
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