Noren Guide: How to Choose the Best Japanese Curtain


Noren Guide: How to Choose the Best Japanese Curtain

by Anna Jamieson | LIFESTYLE 

© jpellgen / Creative Commons, Noren at Matsuyama Castle

Entering a Japanese shop or restaurant, you may have noticed the short curtains that hang over the entrance. These are noren curtains, a ubiquitous symbol of Japanese design that permeates cities, villages and homes alike. We will take a look at where noren came from, what they are for, and where you can get some yourself!

What are Noren Curtains?

Noren with Oak Leaf Crest, Late 19th Century, Met Museum

Noren curtains are fabric dividers, hung in doorways, across windows, on walls and between rooms. They take many shapes and sizes — as our selection here shows — and are made using a multitude of different colors, patterns and materials.

© Katsuyuki Nishijima, Nakazato

In cities, noren are traditionally used by izakaya (Japanese pubs), sushi counters, ramen restaurants, shops and onsen. They typically display the names of the businesses they represent, so become part of the business’s brand. Interior noren are used in homes as well as public spaces, which compartmentalise spaces and divide rooms into separate areas. You can say a great example here in Katsuyuki Nishijima’s print. You can find out more about this artist and his work at Sakura Fine Art.

Five Teahouse Waitresses, Woodblock Print by Chobunsai Eishi, 1793

It is thought that noren originally appeared during the Heian Period (794-1185), where they were used to keep houses cool, or retain heat during colder weather. Gradually, businesses started using them to guard entrances from dust, dirt, bad smells and smoke; a function they still carry out today. In restaurants during the Edo period, customers would wipe their hands on the noren as they left the establishment, so the dirtier the noren, the better!


Where to Buy Noren?

© Samiro Yunoki, Noren Géométrie, 1950. See more from this artist here.

Fancy installing some Japanese noren curtains of your own? If you’re not in Japan, worry not, we have some suggestions for you below. But if you are in Tokyo, it is obviously a brilliant place to hunt down unusual or traditional designs, with one of the best being Bengara. The shop is home to a beautiful collection of noren, made from linen and coloured with a range of natural dyes or ink-brush paintings.

© Narumi, Manekineko Noren

© Narumi, Manekineko Noren

As I said, you don’t have to travel to Japan to buy noren. Online retailers now sell a wealth of noren too, such as this whimsical waving cat noren, a familiar emblem of Japan, which you can get at Amazon here.

© Narumi Ukiyoe Noren, Umbrella Noren

© Narumi Ukiyoe Noren, Umbrella Noren

Or, for something a little more sophisticated, we love the vibrancy of this umbrella-inspired noren curtain: The wonderfully bright design combines something of the art deco era with traditional Japanese patterns, providing an original and beautiful finish. Also available at Amazon.

© Maeda Senko, Indigo Dyed Carp Noren

© Maeda Senko, Indigo Dyed Carp Noren

Indigo is a common color for noren, and this carp design mingles the deep blue with the lighter tones of the fish to brilliant effect. The scales of the carp contrasts beautifully to the painted brush strokes that represent the water, resembling the foamy waves of Hokusai’s renowned wave prints. This Japanese curtain is also available at Amazon.

Noren with Cherry Tree Design, Late 19th Century, Met Museum

Hanging your noren couldn’t be easier — just slip it over a curtain rail adjusted to the width of your doorway or window, and you’re all set! 

If you're looking for some Japanese inspiration for your home, check out these Artistic Features of the Japanese House.

Have we inspired you to hang some noren in your own home or business? Let us know in the comments below!


June 8, 2018 | Lifestyle, Shopping

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