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Edo wind chimes: air con for your soul

Have you noticed that Japan has a thing about bells?

Watch people's phones: every second phone charm has a little bell that jingles with the slightest movement. There are bells on doors and bells at shrines and bells at temples. There are bells on traditional hair ornaments called bira-bira kanzashi, bamboo chimes tuned DFGA for your garden, bells are a symbol of peace (link) and their sound echoes the impermanence of all things (link).

From which one could correctly deduce that peace is ever transient.

Now, before I get sidetracked down a thousand rabbit holes, let’s focus on the real topic: bells, yes, but specifically wind chimes or fūrin (風鈴).

Edo wind chime made from glass

I would not to mine own self be true if I didn't include a little history lesson. Here we go:

The oldest wind chimes found at archeological sites in South East Asia are 5000 years old. These early versions were made from wood, bones and shells; and were probably used to keep birds out of cultivated fields and/or to ward off evil spirits.

Chinese artisans started casting copper bells in roughly 1000 BC, adding design and music. Wikipedia says, "The Chinese created the feng-ling, which is similar to today's modern wind bell. The feng-lings were hung from shrines and pagodas to ward off evil spirits and attract benevolent ones. Today, wind chimes are common practice in the East and used to maximize the flow of chi, or life's energy."

You get many different kinds, but my favourite is the small glass bubble called an Edo fūrin, since they were developed, or rather perfected, in the shitamachi. How did that happen? First, wind chimes were introduced to Japan along with Buddhism; a few centuries later foreigners in Nagasaki taught Japan about glass crafts; and finally a craftsman called Kazusaya Tomesaburō  (上総屋留三郎) returned to Tokyo after training in Nagasaki for many years, and became famous for his glass wind chimes.

Kazusaya and another craftsman, Kagaya Kyūbei (加賀屋久兵衛), were the two main producers of glassware in Tokyo. When glass prices dropped in the late 1880s, Edo fūrin became popular all over Japan.

They haven't lost their charm. The best description I've read is that they're psychological air conditioning: if you hear them, you're supposed to feel less hot, because it means there's a breeze to cool you down. Never mind that it's a wind from the furnace of hell itself. Let's not allow reality to intrude, shall we?

Nowadays the most famous Edo fūrin manufacturer in the shitamachi is Shinohara Fūrin Honpo (篠原風鈴本舗) in Minami-Shin-Ozakimachi in Edogawa. I haven't been to their factory, but I bought one of their designs at a small shop in Okachimachi, Shinohara Maruyoshi Fūrin (篠原まるよし風鈴). I've included photos of the shop below.

I fell in love with Edo fūrin as soon as I heard the first tinkle, and it's become the sound I associate the most with summer in Japan. Earlier this week a university colleague told me about a wind chimes market at Kawasaki Daishi. (My interest in old Edo isn’t exactly a secret anymore.)

"Wind chimes? Market? When? Tell me tell me tell me," I babbled and started bouncing around as I'm wont to do.
"Err. Now. This weekend," my colleague said.
"Kbye!" I yelled and took off.

I had my doubts on my way to Kawasaki, because that temple is ultra-popular and markets can be hideously overcrowded, but what a delight this one is! It's small, busy but not claustrophobic, and it packs a wide variety of designs into a limited space.

Above and below, the wind chimes market at Kawasaki Daishi

I was as tempted to go on a buying spree as I usually am in a bookstore, but I restrained myself, partly because the only way to avoid temptation for an obsessive-compulsive idiot like myself is to Not Give In At All, and partly because I prefer to support the shitamachi's local shops.

Let me show you what the real thing looks like. See the two photos below? The wind chime on the left is a cheap imported Chinese product; the wind chime on the right is a handmade beauty from Shinohara Maruyoshi Fūrin. Apart from the obvious difference in quality and sound, here's another way to tell whether it's the real deal. Look at the gap in the bottom of the wind chime: if it's smooth, it's factory-made; if it has a rough edge, it's a real Edo wind chime. It's believed that the rough edge adds a pleasant, more natural sound as the clapper rubs along the ripples in the glass.

A second difference: the Chinese decoration is clearly mass-printed on the outside of the glass; the Shinohara wind chime's decoration is painted on the inside of the glass so that the painting is protected when the wind chime is placed outside and exposed to wind and rain.

Finally, the mass-made Chinese wind chime has glass that is smooth and bland and without any personality; the Shinohara wind chime, formed by human mouth and hands, has tiny little bubbles in the glass. You can see it clearly in the photo above. 

Now you know. You're welcome.

Oh. Prices. You want to know about prices? The Chinese one was ¥600, the handmade one ¥1600. You can see more prices and designs here.

Sources and more links (don't panic; most of it is in English)

"The sound echoes the impermanence of all things" is the famous opening line of The Tale of The Heike. Here's the full quote: "The sound of the Gion Shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sāla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind."

Temple bells (highly recommended article from

Wind chimes for sale in the shopping street in front of Kawasaki Daishi. Most of them are imported from China.
If you want handmade Japanese wind chimes, visit the market inside the temple complex (open till Monday 21 July).

The photo above and most of the photos below show authentic handmade Japanese wind chimes.

My two wind chimes. You did notice what's in the background, didn't you?!
Below, a video I made so that you can hear the sound.

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