Wandering a Japanese ‘toori’ (street), one of the most distinctive features is the curious fabric panels suspended from the entrance to tea houses, shops, izakaya (informal pubs) and sento (public bath houses). These vertically suspended pieces of rectangular material or cloth, with openings cut from bottom to top, are called ‘noren’.
Dating back to the Jōmon period (14,000–300 BC) noren were originally intended to protect households against the negative forces of nature. But more conventionally used by shops and restaurants to shield against sun, wind and dust or to signify if a shop was open or closed. The number of cloth pieces was also said to correspond favourably to the prosperity of the establishment.
In the medieval period, noren were made from indigo-dyed cloth with white kanji (Japanese letters) but today the size, material and pattern of noren varies greatly. In modern Japan, they often serve as an interesting decorative feature, painted in a distinguishable colour or crest.
Particularly noticeable noren appear at the entrance to Japanese sento (public bath houses). Red – Female, Blue – male. Typically emblazoned with a character (hiragana) meaning ‘hot water’.
However, much like Japan’s culture, noren are typically covert in their representation and it takes a discerning passer-by to venture beyond seemingly closed curtains…
The main photograph was captured in Ine-cho fishing village in Kyoto for the AW16 campaign, view the full collection here. Words and image of Japanese Baishinka confectionary shop by Kate Allchin, who travelled to Japan in the spring. Find her on Instagram @i_am_klea/
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