November 11, 2023

Contemporary craftsmanship: The Timeless Allure of the Japanese Paper Lantern

Author: Radmila Durasinovic
Tags: Design / Showcase Category: magazine

Contemporary craftsmanship: The Timeless Allure of the Japanese Paper Lantern

Paper lanterns have a rich history dating back to ancient China, where they were initially used during the Han dynasty for lighting and decoration. Initially crafted from vibrant, delicate paper, supported by a bamboo framework and housing a flickering candle, their designs became increasingly intricate over time, incorporating elaborate cutouts and colorful paintings. These lanterns later made their way to Japan, becoming a symbol of good luck and happiness, particularly during the Obon festival where they were used to guide ancestral spirits.

Chōchin wo Motsu Onna (提灯を持つ女, "Woman holding a paper lamp"), 19th century illustration by Utamaro

These paper lanterns found their way into the western mainstream design discourse in the 1950s through the work of the renowned Japanese-American artist and designer Isamu Noguchi and his 'Akari' collection for Vitra. Named after the Japanese word for light, they represented a modern twist on the traditional chochin lanterns, featuring a collapsible design for easy storage and transport. Crafted by hand using bamboo for structure and washi paper sourced from mulberry trees, Noguchi's designs went beyond the traditional hanging lantern, introducing floor and table lamps for the collection. 

Akari Collection © Vitra

Quickly captivating the public, the Akari collection influenced a multitude of mass-produced lights finding their way into households globally. The journey of these humble paper lanterns signifies the convergence of traditional materials with contemporary design, ultimately leaving an indelible mark on the world of interior lighting. In this showcase, we explore the approaches of contemporary designers that masterfully combine the themes of tradition and craftsmanship with illumination to produce inspiring lighting designs based on the Japanese paper lantern.

Akari Lamps © Françoise Dorelli

The Design Defender Showcase series features products from leading manufacturers in the design industry, providing a rich source of inspiration for professional designers and design enthusiasts alike, helping them stay up-to-date with the latest trends and discover fresh ideas for ongoing projects.

Andon © Time & Style


Derived from Japanese tradition, Andon represents one of the three forms of these classic lanterns, typically designed in a portable square shape. Drawing from this cultural heritage, Time & Style introduces their own Andon lamp, featuring delicate cedar wood lines and washi paper, emitting a soft, poetic glow that creates elegant shadows. The washi paper is meticulously produced using the finest Nasu Kozo pulp, renowned for its exceptional quality in the realm of paper-making.

Formakami Pendant © Jaime Hayon


The Formakami collection is an interesting combination of Spanish creativity, Scandinavian sensibility and Japanese tradition by designer Jaime Hayon for &Tradition. Hayon’s use of the colour white for the lamps was a deliberate choice to uphold a visually lightweight aesthetic. In order to optimize the emitted light, the bottom was left open, creating a lamp that provides not only the literal illumination but also symbolically illuminate the lives of individuals, adding a deeper layer of meaning to the design process. “Light has the ability to dispel darkness and bring hope,” says Hayon.  

Making of a Hotaru Paper Lantern © Keith Ng

HOTARU/ twentytwentyone

During his travels in Japan, Edward Barber paid a visit to Ozeki & Co, a renowned Japanese enterprise specialising in paper lantern production since 1891 that played a pivotal role in the fabrication of Isamu Noguchi's Akari light sculptures. Impressed with what he saw, Barber started the Hotaru project with his partner Jay Osgerby, which was finally unveiled at the London Design Festival in 2015.

Hotaru Paper Lantern

Bearing the name 'firefly' in Japanese, Hotaru is manufactured by Ozeki & Co Ltd, and distributed by twentytwentyone. It features two variations: the robust and sculptural Double Bubble, and Buoy, whose design was inspired by nautical beacons.

Hashira Pendant © Audo


Hashira is another European take on traditional Japanese lanterns originally produced by Menu, now part of the Audo Copenhagen brand. Inspired by the geometry of architecture, the collection designed by Norm Architects features a slender cylindrical design reminiscent of Japanese lanterns and window blinds, providing gentle, multi-directional illumination. It represents a harmonious fusion of Eastern and Western influences, its expression a masterful balance of tradition and modernity.

Hyouri Collection © Nendo


The Hyouri lantern collection designed by Oki Sato embodies a delicate and ethereal quality, reminiscent of jellyfish suspended in water. Made with bamboo splints and washi paper, the collection is a departure from the traditional Kyoto lantern's solidity, offering a lightweight, multilayered design.

Hyouri © Nendo

Incorporating mobility by allowing the lanterns to be manipulated into various shapes, this collection comprises ten customisable designs, enveloped in translucent silk linings that emphasize their delicate nature, all while paying tribute to the timeless tradition of Kyoto's paper lanterns.

Kanji © Fontana Arte


The Kanji lamp designed by Denis Guidone for Fontana Arte offers a reinterpretation of Oriental portable lanterns, infusing them with a contemporary touch. Named after characters of Chinese origin used in Japanese writing, the lamps are inspired by the intricate designs found in Chinese porcelain from the Ming dynasty. With an elegant pleated surface made of hand-blown glass that diffuses light emitted by a led ring inside the structure, Kanji provides a departure from the traditional paper versions.

November 11, 2023 Author: Radmila Durasinovic
Tags: Design / Showcase Category: magazine

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