Finding Ways to Cool Down: The Cooling Charm of Furin Wind-Chimes
The rainy season with its overcast or wet days will be over soon in Japan, and it will be replaced by clear blue skies, towering cumulonimbus clouds and the green of trees shining under the hot summer sun. What kind of memories do you have of your summers in Japan?
Did you see any wind-chimes in summer, swaying gently as it captures a breeze and producing a pleasant ringing sound?
Called Furin in Japan, the wind-chimes are small bells made of materials such as metal, ceramics or glass. In the middle of the bell, a clapper hangs with a strip of paper, etc. attached to it. The strip of paper catches the wind, forces the clapper to strike the wind-chime and makes it chime.
Furin are depicted even in Edo period Ukiyo-e prints from about 250 years ago. They have been a seasonal tradition that is indispensable to Japanese summers.
Nambu Furin is made using ferrous casting techniques which have a 900-year history in Japan. The sound made when the clapper strikes the iron bell is long-lasting and high pitched. It is a beautiful sound that Japan's Ministry of the Environment chose as one of the top 100 sounds of Japan which we would like to see preserved.
Edo Furin is made of glass that is colorfully painted so as to present a feeling of coolness. When the wind blows, it makes a short clinking type of sound as the clapper scrapes against the glass bell. Glass wind-chimes became a familiar object to commoners towards the end of the Edo period, reaching their peak of popularity during the Meiji period (1868-1912).
The sound that Furin make is quite pleasant to the ear. It is said that this is because it has the same kind of irregular tones and fluctuation as the sounds of nature, like the babbling of a brook or the chirping of birds, that soothes the soul. In other words, the secret seems to be in the fact that the wind-chimes ring with a changing, irregular and overlapping rhythm as the paper strip catches the breeze.
The origin of the Furin is said to be Chinese Futaku, which arrived in Japan together with Buddhism. Futaku were used to predict good or bad luck through the way they sounded or to fend off evil. It was believed that people living where they could hear the clanging of Futaku hung at temples were protected from meeting misfortune.
The Futaku underwent various changes in Japanese culture, with its shape and tone gradually changed until it became a unique Japanese device for helping to bear the summer heat though its pleasant sound.
Hanging wind-chimes and enjoying its sound is a custom that can be seen outside of Japan. However, using them only during summer to feel coolness through the eyes and ears may be something that resulted from the Japanese appreciation of the four seasons and a lifestyle that made the most of nature.
Why not hang a Furin under the eave of your house and spend some time reminiscing about the summers you spent in Japan?