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Japanese wind chime hanging by a doorway
A Japanese glass wind chime hanging in a doorway

Japanese wind chimes, known as fūrin (風鈴), are an integral part of Japanese culture, symbolizing the essence of summer and blending aesthetic beauty, spiritual significance and craftsmanship.  

These delicate and often beautifully crafted chimes are more than just decorative items; they hold deep cultural meaning and are loved for their aesthetic and sensory contributions to the Japanese way of life.

History of Japanese wind chimes

The origins of fūrin wind chimes can be traced back to ancient China. They were introduced to Japan through Buddhist rituals and practices during the Nara period (710-794) and were hung in temples and shrines to ward off evil spirits.

Over time, the use of fūrin spread from a religious setting into normal homes.  By the Edo period (1603-1868), they had become popular as a household item, being appreciated for their soothing sounds and believed to bring good fortune.

Furin wind chimes hanging at a Japanese shrine

In modern Japan, many people continue to hang fūrin in their homes, gardens and balconies during the summer. The tradition is also celebrated at lively summer festivals, where fūrin are sold and displayed, adding to the festive atmosphere and providing a sensory reprieve from the heat.

Materials & craftsmanship

Cast iron Japanese double wind chime

Traditionally, Japanese wind chimes were made from metal, but during the Edo period glass fūrin became popular.  Craftsmen would blow glass into moulds to create intricate designs and many modern wind chimes are made this way.  

Nowadays, fūrin can also be made from ceramics, bamboo and other materials.

Metal fūrin, typically made from iron, brass or bronze produce a sharper, more resonant sound while ceramic chimes have a softer tone and are often hand-painted with traditional Japanese motifs.  The designs are often inspired by nature, with motifs such as flowers, insects as well as traditional Japanese patterns.

Wind chimes made from bamboo and have a unique, natural sound distinct from glass or metal chimes and have a particular harmony with nature.

Psychological effects and well-being

In Japan, fūrin wind chimes are most commonly associated with summer.  The sound produced is gentle and soothing, adding to the serene and contemplative atmosphere of Japanese gardens and homes.  

Indeed, the gentle sound is believed to evoke a feeling of coolness, especially during the hot summer months of June, July and August.

One reason may be that the soft, tinkling sound of wind chimes is associated with a gentle breeze, which naturally evokes a sense of coolness.  In fact, the human brain can associate certain sounds with specific sensations and this pleasant sound can create the mental image of a refreshing breeze, thereby making the listener feel cooler.

In addition, the soothing and melodic tones of fūrin have a calming effect on the mind and contribute to feelings of relaxation and comfort.  This relaxation can reduce the perception of heat and discomfort and bring about a sense of coolness and well-being.

Another aspect is that the sound of Japanese wind chimes complements the natural environment, blending with the sounds of wind, water and other natural elements. This harmony enhances the sensory experience and further contributes to a perception of coolness and tranquillity.

Where shall I hang my wind chime?

The best place to hang fūrin is where they can catch a gentle breeze to create their soothing sounds.

Hanging fūrin near a window is one of the most common and effective placements.  The breeze coming through the window will easily make the chime sound, creating a pleasant atmosphere indoors.

Placing it in a doorway, especially one that leads to an outdoor space like a garden, courtyard or patio, allows the chime to catch the wind as it moves in and out of the house.

Verandas and balconies are also perfect for hanging wind chimes.  The open air and frequent breezes will ensure that the chime rings regularly, enhancing the relaxing ambiance of your outdoor area.

In the garden, hanging your wind chime from a tree branch, pergola or garden structure can add a delightful auditory element to your garden.  The natural setting enhances the harmony between the chime and its environment.

Wherever you are, the sound of the chime can be enjoyed while you relax or entertain guests.

Considerations for hanging wind chimes

  • Height:  Hang the fūrin at a height where it can catch the wind but is still within view so you can enjoy its visual beauty as well as its sound.
  • Location safety:   Ensure the chime is securely fastened to avoid it falling or being damaged by strong winds.
  • Proximity to living spaces:  Place the fūrin where its sound can be heard without being intrusive.  It should contribute to a calming environment without disturbing your daily activities or sleep.
  • Multiple fūrin:  If you have more than one fūrin, consider spacing them out in different areas to create a harmonious soundscape rather than a cacophony.

By carefully selecting where to hang your Japanese wind chimes, you can maximize their soothing effect and enjoy their aesthetic and auditory appeal.

Wait… what’s that hanging below the wind chime?

Blue ceramic Japanese wind chime

The paper tail that hangs underneath Japanese fūrin is called a tanzaku (短冊).  While its primary purpose is to catch the wind and help the fūrin produce its characteristic sound, it also has a special cultural significance in Japan.

The tanzaku is usually made of paper, though it can also be made of other lightweight materials like plastic or cloth, and they come in various colours and designs.  They might feature traditional patterns and seasonal motifs and come in simple, elegant colours.

The tradition of writing wishes or poems on tanzaku is particularly associated with the Tanabata summer festival where people write their wishes on colourful strips of paper and hang them on bamboo branches.  However, this custom has been extended to fūrin, where writing a wish on the tanzaku adds a personal and positive touch to the wind chime.

In this charming tradition, it is believed that, as the wind moves the tanzaku and the fūrin rings, the wishes written on the tanzaku are carried to the heavens.

How to write a tanzaku

Choosing the tanzaku:  Select a tanzaku that is clean and preferably designed for writing.  Some fūrin come with plain tanzaku specifically for this purpose.  You can easily make your own tanzaku from a strip of pretty paper, maybe Japanese washi paper if you can get it, cut to about 6cm x 15cm (depending on the size of your wind chime).

Writing:  Use a pen or marker that won't smudge easily and write your wish, poem or message neatly.  You could try calligraphy or decorative writing and you could even decorate it with small drawings or stamps.

Attaching the Tanzaku:  If your tanzaku doesn’t already have a hole near the top, carefully make one and ensure that it is securely attached by string to the clapper inside the fūrin.  It should hang freely so it can catch the wind effectively.

A Japanese fūrin makes a great gift!

I think this demonstrates that giving a Japanese wind chime as a gift can be a thoughtful and meaningful gesture, especially for someone interested in Japanese culture.

Japanese furin wind chime with floral pattern

Fūrin are a quintessential piece of Japanese culture.  They symbolize summer, tranquillity and the soothing sounds of nature.  The gentle ringing of the chime is associated with relaxation and peace, which can be a symbolic wish for the recipient’s well-being and happiness.

But as well as this, a handwritten tanzaku offers a unique way to personalize the gift, making it extra special and thoughtful.

If the recipient is not familiar with fūrin, you could even include a note explaining its cultural significance and about the tradition of writing wishes on the tanzaku.

Example of a Personalized Tanzaku Message

"May this fūrin bring you peace and tranquillity, and may your days be filled with the gentle sounds of happiness and joy."

I feel that this message really encompasses what Japanese fūrin are all about.  I hope you will spread this message to those you know and love!


Japanese wind chimes at Hatsukoi


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