If you’ve ever spent a summer in Japan, you’re likely familiar with Japanese wind chimes, also known as furin. These wind chimes hang outside Japanese homes from balconies or porches. You’ll often see (and hear) them during the summer season.
Perhaps you’ve had the pleasure of hearing Japanese wind chimes in person, or maybe this is your first time learning about them. Either way, you’re in for a treat!
We’ll share everything you need to know about furin, including their origins, where you can find them, how they’re made, and more!
Let’s dive into the world of Japanese wind chimes.
What is a Japanese Wind Chime?
A furin is a small bell typically hung from Japanese balconies or porches throughout the summer.
They usually consist of three parts:
- The bowl (also known as the gaiken)
- The wind bell clapper (also known as zetsu)
- A colorful paper strip (also known as the tanzaku)
Each chime features a colorful paper strip that hangs from the bottom and flutters beautifully in the summer breeze.
The wind blows the paper, causing the bell clapper to strike inside the bowl. This lets out a calming chime.
What Are Japanese Wind Chimes Used For?
Furin was initially used to predict the future. Individuals would use them to understand whether there was good fortune or bad fortune on the way.
They were also placed in temples to ward off epidemics and evil.
Let’s fast forward to modern times. Aside from the calming noises, individuals often used wind chimes as a refresher, especially before the air conditioning days.
While you can’t compare the two, Japanese wind chimes give off a cool breeze that’s felt on scorching days.
Today they’re used for decorative purposes in homes, particularly on balconies. They’re also commonly incorporated into festivals.
History of Furin
The furin has its roots in ancient China, where it was derived from a metal bell called a senfutaku. Villagers would hang this bell in the bamboo forests and believed they could predict the future based on the direction of the wind and the sound the chimes made.
The bells’ sounds in the wind would be interpreted as good or bad fortune.
It was during the Heian period that these bells spread to Japan. They were initially used in Buddhist temples, many of which can still be seen today.
Heian nobles began to hang them on their porches as a charm to ward off evil spirits. The wind bells eventually got smaller and became more common in Japanese homes.
Over the centuries, they began to change from bells to wind chimes and their purpose changed from predicting the future to warding off evil spirits.
During the plague-ridden years of the middle ages, the wealthy would hang expensive bronze bells from their porches to keep disease away.
It’s thought that this may be why the chimes are associated with the hot, muggy months of summer, as that was the time of year epidemics were particularly rampant.
It was in the 18th century when glassmaking was introduced to Japan by the Dutch. Skilled glass blowers in Nagasaki were the first to sell glass furin. Their rare products were expensive; today, one piece would have been worth thousands of dollars.
The art eventually found its way to Edo or old Tokyo in the 19th century. The technique became widespread, and the price lowered, making glass furin extremely popular.
After that, painting the inside of the glass began, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Many materials are used to make Japanese wind chimes, with some being more popular than others.
Copper and bronze were most common during the Heian period. In the 18th century, trading with European merchants grew in areas like Nagasaki and developed a glass-made Japanese wind chimes market.
Their popularity grew during the 19th century, and in the early 20th century, there was a growing demand for iron furin.
The most popular types of furin are made from glass and have a variety of painted or printed designs. Molds are generally used for other materials but aren’t necessary for glass wind chimes. Traditional glass crafting techniques are used to make the basic shape of a glass wind chime.
The heated glass is blown into a small glass bubble-like shape. After collecting melted glass by spinning it, it’s shaped into a bowl. The hole for the thread is made while blowing air into the bell.
Lastly, a picture is painted inside the cooled glass to finish the wind chime. The designs are usually summer images, but you can find anything from cherry blossoms and fish to cartoon characters.
Where Can I Buy a Furin?
You can purchase these stunning traditional chimes online, but if you’re visiting Japan, there are a few ways to buy furin.
Japanese wind chimes can be found in almost any city in Japan, whether it’s a small country store or a street market filled with souvenir shops. They’re pretty easy to see during the summertime; follow the sound of the light chime of the furin.
That doesn’t mean they’re only available or accessible to get ahold of during the summer; there is still a variety offered year-round.
If you don’t know where to begin looking, Nakamise Shopping Street in Asakusa is sure to have a wide selection.
Chances are, if you’re visiting Japan, you have a list of museums on your sightseeing list. Museums are also great places to purchase Japanese wind chimes.
If visiting museums was not on your itinerary, understand that you’ll have to pay a fee to enter most of them. That means these locations will be pricier than if you had just visited a souvenir shop.
However, you’ll have access to higher-quality furin at museums than you would at smaller shops. Plus, you’ll get to explore the fascinating cultural, historical, and artistic exhibits on display.
If you’re looking for the best of the best, you should visit a long-established artisan workshop. You’ll even have the opportunity to take a masterclass and learn how to make your own wind chime.
Classes are around 3,500 yen (about 23 USD). Whether you take the class or just watch the artisans at work, you’ll surely enjoy your experience.
If you are in east Tokyo, Shinohara Furin Honpo has been in business since 1915. If you’re visiting north Tokyo, stop by Shinohara Maruyoshi Furin; they offer the same experience.
Furin are also sold in department stores around Japan. You don’t have to go out of your way to find them; you can do it while shopping for other things.
Visit stores like Takashimaya throughout the country, often attached to train stations.
Temples and Shrines
Furin came to Japan along with Buddhism and are sold in the shops attached to most temples. Festivals dedicated to Japanese wind chimes are typically held in July and August.
Temple grounds are filled with furin for weeks to months, giving you ample opportunities to purchase one for yourself.
Some furin festivals are in Kawagoe Hiwaka Shrine, Kawasaki Daishi Temple, and Ofusa Kannon.
Types of Japanese Wind Chimes
The choices are almost endless. There are more than 1,000 kinds of materials with many different colors, shapes, and sizes.
Some types of Japanese wind chimes include:
- Nambu Furin: These are made from iron and have a frequency of 3000 Hz, which is said to have a healing effect. They also use the traditional kinki-teki technique.
- Takaoka Furin: These are made from brass using a traditional casting technique. They are often found in modern, minimalist designs that would not look out of place in an art gallery.
- Edo Furin: The official name of glass wind chimes with designs painted inside. They are hand-made using techniques handed down from the Edo period. There is just a single shop considered to be an official maker of Edo furin, located in Tokyo.
- Ryukyu Furin: Okinawa has its own glass wind chimes. They use local Ryukyu glass techniques and are crafted in vibrant colors. They have a bubbly appearance and tend to remind you of a glass of colorful soda on a hot day.
- Hibachi Furin: Different than the usual Japanese wind chimes, these are comprised of dangling metal chopsticks. The tone is generated by each chopstick hitting the central point.
Every region’s wind chimes usually have their own local techniques and crafting. For example, Okayama Prefecture is home to ceramic wind chimes, while you’ll find porcelain wind chimes in Saga Prefecture.
Many furin from Shizuoka feature a very detailed iron chime encased in a bamboo cage.
Final Thoughts About Furin
Now that you understand what furin are, how they’re made, their history, and where to buy them, you’ll be all the more prepared to appreciate the sounds of chimes echoing throughout the streets of Japan if you’re lucky enough to visit.
Consider visiting a shop to buy one for yourself or as a gift. The chimes you bring home will remind you of each place you visited in your travels.