Noren: A Confluence of Tradition, Artistry, and Versatility
When you enter a Japanese shop or restaurant, you may have noticed the short curtains hanging over the entrance. These are Noren curtains, a ubiquitous symbol of Japanese design that permeates cities, villages and homes alike.
Noren curtains are fabric dividers hung in doorways, over windows, on walls and between rooms. They come in many shapes and sizes - as our selection here shows - and are made from a variety of colours, patterns and materials.
Since ancient times, the inside and outside of a building were softly partitioned to prevent wind and light from entering directly into the building or as a blindfold from the outside.
The noren gradually came to be used as a marker of a store's business, and was displayed when the store opened, and when the store closed, the noren was first put away (put away) to indicate that the store was closed.
This meaning was later transformed to symbolically refer to the shop name as "noren" (or simply "goodwill"), and also to express the credibility and prestige of the store (see "Derivative Meanings" section below).
In the prewar and postwar periods, yatai (food stalls), iyaya (restaurants), and other such establishments sometimes used the noren to wipe their dirty fingertips after picking up food as customers left, and this was also an indicator that the more dirty the noren was, the more prosperous the establishment was.
Buildings with bathing and hot spring facilities, such as public bathhouses and Japanese-style inns, sometimes hang "yunoren" (curtains with "yu" or "yu" written on them).
In addition, noren such as "Onna-yu" (women's bath) and "Otoko-yu" (men's bath) are sometimes lowered to make it easier to distinguish between them, and are also lowered at different times of the day to indicate a change of location.
The noren also has the meaning of a rope used to demarcate the sacred area from the secular area (shimenawa), and is hung in cooking areas of restaurants.
The nyumi through which bamboo poles are threaded are so called because they are equally spaced like canine milk, and are most often found in eastern Japan, while in western Japan they are often a single tube, which is also called a nyumi.
History of Noren Curtains
In Japanese houses, mats were first used as a material for shoji, which were hung over doorways to block out sunlight and rain. The word "noren" is an archaic word for "taremushi," or "bamboo blind".
The first extant reference to the noren (bamboo blind) is found in "Shigisan Engi Emaki" from the Hōen era, which depicts a townhouse with a half-noren similar to today's three-layered noren.
In the "Nenchu-Yoshiki Emaki" (Picture Scroll of Annual Events) of the Hogen era, a three-draped half-noren and a long-noren can be seen in a row house facing a main street. In "Koukawa-ji Enki-e" of the Jisho era (1615-1704), indigo-dyed colored cloths are seen hanging at the entrance to the corridors of private houses.
Different Types of Noren
The length of a long curtain is based on the standard length of 3 shaku (about 113 cm), and is divided into a long curtain and a short half curtain. The shortest in length but long in width and extending across the entire frontage is called a mizuhiki noren.
Long Noren curtain
It has been used to avoid damage to goods caused by direct sunlight and to allow customers in the store to relax while selecting goods.
Half Noren curtain
It is used in udon, soba, and sushi restaurants.
The mizuhiki noren is said to have replaced the woven mats and wooden plank frames that were hung at the eaves of the roof with cloth.
Sunshade noren (drum noren)
A curtain made of a single piece of unbroken cloth stretched from the eaves to the street. It is also called "taiko noren," or "drum noren," because of the sound it makes when stirred by the wind.
Nawa noren (bamboo blind with a rope or string)
Instead of cloth, twisted nettle rope is hung in a horizontal line . It is said to be older than the cloth noren. During the Tempo period (1868-1912), nawa noren became a synonym for taverns, as it was hung in taverns that sold boiled food to keep insects away.
Tamawarmoren (curtain made of beads)
A bead curtain, called a zyudare in the old days, is made of beads, glass or wooden beads strung together and hung from a string.
Tube curtains are made of shinotake bamboo, wooden tubes, glass tubes, and tubular tool shells joined together and hung down.