Japanese culture

Japanese Encyclopedia: Fūrin (Wind Chimes) | Japan Guide

Fūrin are Japanese wind chimes used in the summer. In this article we will introduce how the fūrin came about, along with places where you can purchase them.

A fūrin or wind chime is often used as an item to represent the summer. It is hung under roofs and people enjoy the soothing sounds it makes when the wind blows.

The fūrin consists of the bowl shaped exterior, the zetsu (the clapper) on the inside that produces the sound, and a strip of paper that is hung from the zetsu. With just these three parts, the fūrin is able to emit the beautiful sounds that remind people of summer in Japan.

Why Do You Hang The Fūrin?

Reference: flickr

From ancient times in Japan, it was believed that when a strong wind blows, an epidemic will spread. Therefore, the tradition developed that, in order to avoid epidemics or to ward away evil, a bronze wind chime in the shape of a bell called the fūtaku should be hung up by the house.

When the fūtaku gets blown by a strong wind it produces a clanging sound that alerts people to the wind and therefore any changes happening around them; these bell-like chimes were mainly hung in sacred places such as shrines and temples, giving them a divine sort of feel. Therefore, the fūrin were hung in houses during the summer when epidemics spread due to the high temperature and humidity as a sort of wards against these problems.

Chimes in the shape of bells were formerly made of bronze. However, from the eighteenth century, techniques to make glass came from Holland and changed the fūrin. During the nineteenth century, glass products became popular and glass fūrin became the main type of fūrin instead of the bronze ones.

The fūrin was used to ward away evil and epidemics, but currently it is used as an item to enjoy the cooling sounds during the hot summer days. Some people overlap the sounds of the fūrin with the sounds of crickets during autumn to ease the summer heat. For Japanese people to survive the hot and humid summers, they created the fūrin to find enjoyment in the heated summer days.

The Meaning Of The Paper On The Fūrin

Reference: flickr

The part that differentiates the fūrin is the piece of paper that is hung from the center of the bowl shaped bell. When the wind blows, the paper catches the wind and moves the clapper to produce the sound from the fūrin. The charm of the fūrin is the sound it makes. Thanks to the paper, the fūrin is able to emit a gentle sound that everyone can enjoy.

Furthermore, the paper is needed to enhance the coolness. We are unable to see the wind, so the paper allows us to visually see the wind. Even when the paper moves from a light breeze, you will acknowledge the presence of the wind. This is why people are able to feel cool even on hot and humid days in Japan.

How Are Fūrin Made?

Reference: flickr

Traditional glass crafting techniques are used to make the basic shape of a glass fūrin. First, the heated glass is blown to the size of a large candy. Then, after collecting melted glass by spinning it, the glass is shaped into a bowl. While adding more air, a hole to put the thread for hanging is made. Lastly, a picture is painted onto the inside of the cooled glass to complete the fūrin.

In Iwate prefecture, traditional Nambu iron techniques are used to make the Nambu Fūrin. Despite the heavy appearance, the clean metallic sounds it creates has a different charm from the glass ones. In Toyama prefecture, fūrin are made using the Takaoka Bronze, and in Okinawa, the fūrin is made of Ryūkyū glass. In various regions of Japan, you will be able to find fūrin using regional techniques being incorporated and passed down.

Fūrin are also a popular craft to make for summer projects among elementary school students. By using plastic cups as the bell, they make their own original fūrin. Many people also put the fūrin on display as decoration for their room. Using a fūrin in a design that you like helps to add a slight Japanese edge to your room. As you can see, the fūrin is used widely among many for various purposes.

How To Purchase Wind Chimes

If you would like to buy a glass fūrin, it is recommended to buy it at the origin of the glass fūrin, in Tōkyō. A fūrin shop that has been operating for over one hundred years is the Fujiwara Fūrin Main Shop, which is a twelve minute walk from Mizue Station on the Toei Shinjuku Line. Aside from during their busy season, you will be able to see how the fūrin being made, and you will also be able to experience making one yourself too. Please feel free to contact them if you are interested.

The popular souvenir of Iwate, the Nambu Iron fūrin can be purchased at the Mizusawa Ward in Oshu city. If you visit Mizusawa Station in the summer, you will find many Nambu fūrin on display at the waiting room in the station. Indulge in the melody of the clean sounds of the metallic fūrin while finding a perfect souvenir.

For those who would like to purchase a fūrin during their visit to Japan, check out department stores in Ōsaka or Tōkyō. During the summer, fūrin shops from all over the nation are likely to have pop-up booths to sell their fūrin.