Making of traditional Japanese Lanterns 1.

Mr. Haba, master Lantern maker.©2009 Marais


One of the perks in participating in the Mino Paper Art Residency is that you get the opportunity to learn more about the art and culture of Japan. We were given a lantern workshop by Mr and Mrs Haba who is very important lantern makers in their area. I tried my best to document the process for you, unfortunately I do not know all the official names for each tool and object in Japanese and will use my own interpretation.

Paper lanterns made their appearance around two thousand years ago in China. Believe it or not they were born out of the necessity to communicate on battlefields and became the army’s “smoke signals”. These paper shapes will have a candle inside that once it creates hot air it will rise and float in the dark night sky. Like so many other culture aspects from China the paper lantern found its way over the years to Japan. Can you imagine in the days before electricity how beautiful these paper lanterns must have been in homes and on the streets. The Japanese today uses it for celebrations and festivals, religious and spiritual ceremonies and for signage. Many stores will have their name or product name painted on a lantern hanging outside the door to let the customer know that they are open and what type of business they are.

Famous large lantern in Tokyo, Sensoji Temple Asakusa


When you make a Japanese lantern you will work with a wooden mold that can easily assemble and disassemble. Over the mold you are going to wind a paper wire. On top of the paper wire you will glue Washi Paper. Once the paper is dry you will take the mold out and leave a hollow paper lantern behind. You need specific tools for the making of traditional Japanese Lanterns that I will show you in the following photos:


©2009 Marais

This is the base that you will use to hold your mold. You have many different mold sizes and the size of your base depends on your mold. At the bottom of the base is a weight to keep it sturdy.

©2009 Marais

This is the wooden mold that will shape your lantern. This mold is for a round lantern about 18″ in diameter. The base and the mold are handmade by Mr. Haba with hand tools.  The mold is varnished and lacquered  because it will be used for many years even decades. At each end you will have a wooden plug that will keep the wooden wings open almost like a dovetail joint. (You will notice that one of the wooden plugs have a hole. Once your mold is on the base you will use a lever in this hole to turn your mold)

©2009 Marais

The edges of the wooden wings will be jagged. This is all measured precisely since this is what will hold your internal wire structure and have to be spaced evenly.

©2009 Marais

This mold has 8 wings.

How to start:

©2009 Marais

The jagged edges of your wooden wings are waxed before you assemble it to make sure that the wire will not get stuck so it is easier to take your mold out.

©2009 Marais

The wings are now placed in the bottom plug in a circular order

©2009 Marais

When all eight of your wings are place in the bottom plug you will add the top plug that will keep it all together.

©2009 Marais

An elastic band is place around the end to make sure there is enough pressure on the wings that the plug does not slip out.

©2009 Marais

Here is the complete assembled mold for a round lantern. You are know ready to add the wire.

Winding your lantern:

©2009 Marais

Now you will place your mold on your base. The lantern mold will be at a slight angle on the base, this will make it easier to apply the wire and the paper.

©2009 Marais

At each end of your mold a wire is placed. This will be the mouths of your lantern where you will attach the light bulb and hang your lantern from.A wooden dowel is tapped with a hammer inside to press against your added wire. This will make sure that the wire will not move.

©2009 Marais

This is special wire that is for lantern making. It reminds me of flower wire but much thicker and stronger. The core is a metal and around the wire is paper.

©2009 Marais

You will attach this wire to the already metal wire on your mold with a string or Mr. Haba uses a small strip of Washi (learn more about washi here)  and Methyl Cellulose.

Video One

Please continue to part two of this three part series.

About Marais

Anja Marais is an artist with interdisciplinary projects consisting of sculpture, photography, installation and film that present the idea of the perpetual outlander. For more information visit
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