Japan: Traditions (Noren / 暖簾 )

In an earlier blog post I mentioned that it is always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the traditions and conducts of the country you are planning to visit. It has been my past experience that having an understanding of the customs allows you to immerse yourself deeper into the culture and enjoy your trip even more.

Since I tend to write quite a bit about traveling to Japan, I thought it would be good to introduce you to yet another Japanese tradition, noren (暖簾). You will notice noren throughout your travels in Japan and perhaps may become a little curious about its significance.

Noren are the traditional fabric curtains hung in doorways, windows and in between rooms. The use of noren dates back to the Jomon Period (12,000 BC to 300 BC) where they were used to protect temples and residences from external elements like dust, rain and sunlight. They also provided a sense of privacy. Eventually, noren’s use evolved to where they were used indoors as room dividers and as advertisement pieces by businesses. The traditional noren were cobalt blue with a white design inscribed on them.

Today, noren curtains play both a functional and aesthetic role and come in many different materials, sizes, colors and patterns. You will commonly find them hung in homes, shops and restaurants. You will also find them in commercial bathhouses (sento) and onsens, used to clearly mark men’s and women’s entrances. Hung in the front entrance of a business, the noren signals that the shop is open for business. At the end of the day, the curtain is taken down signifying that the business is closed. Further, since the noren hung across front entrances of businesses often features the shop name or logo, the word noren has evolved to refer to the company’s brand value. In other words, the term noren is often used in accounting to describe the goodwill of a company after an acquisition.

So there you have it – noren represents yet another facet of the unique culture of Japan. Oftentimes, visitors to the country bring them back as souvenirs hence spreading the traditions of Japan.


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