Adding a colourful flair to the Asakusa street life, Tokyo: The nobori, a Japanese banner, usually hangs outside of sweets shops that serve all kinds of delicacies such as oshiruko, a sweet red bean soup.

Nobori: Colourful Banner Designs

Nobori, Japanese banner, cheerfully swinging from a pole in the breeze, can be spotted all over the place in Japan, namely in front of shops and shrines. Even today, this ancient form of advertisement is used for shop ads or promotion of all kinds of places – certainly folks over here are too familiar with its tradition. In today’s PingMag, we’ll show you some typical colourful, swinging nobori as seen in every town.

Written by Ryoko
Translated by Rie Ishimi

Shop Ads

First, we went to the popular ancient Asakusa district of Tokyo to look for some nobori since this is definitely the place for these. In daily street life you’d find various designs such as a typical one for a soba noodle shop, more cute ones dyed pink, or the traditional style with Japanese fonts. Actually, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call Asakusa “a banner town.” However, note that nobori are originally from the period of the Civil War. They were used to identify friends and foes…


Several vivid-green nobori in a row as seen at a shrine…

… and this navy blue banner is typical for a soba noodle shop.

This nobori, banner, for a public bath has an “onsen” mark, meaning ‘hot spring.’

Eye -catching advertisement: Black fonts on pink gets your attention.

Apart from the fonts, lots of nobori also feature pictures; for example, a coffee cup icon for a café or a wave splash design for a fish restaurant. Moreover, since Asakusa is famous for many comic storytelling shows and theatres, you find ljoshikimaku-themed banners, depicting a curtain for the kabuki stage. This is placed to show directions to the theatre.


A fish restaurant’s nobori: A wave splash indicates that they use fresh fishes. Hopefully…

The name of this café is “Heaven” and it comes with sweet coffee cup icons.

A joshikimaku, a curtain of a kabuki stage is the motif here.

And this rather minimalist banner is for a tobacco shop saying “tobacco” in hiragana.

Modernisation

But a banner isn’t only used by traditional shops: Look at the modernised nobori designs of transport company Yamato Transport and that of the combini, convenience store, Family Mart based on their logos or brand colours. This is the contemporary form of advertisement, too. We also found some rare public nobori like one saying, “No Littering.”


Combini, for covenient store, chain Family Mart simply uses its logo…

… same modernised banner version for Yamato Transport.

The restaurant bar Sakura Suisan has its nobori with a lively design in the motif of the rising sun.

And this would be a banner illustrating “No littering.” Interesting!

Religious Banners

This big brilliant nobori describing the name of the shrine with large fonts is attached to a heavy-looking bamboo pole. It’s standing right here in Asakusa. Awesome how it rears into the sky!


The nobori stands in front of chingo taishisha’s gate in Asakusa, surrounded by beautiful autumn leaves…

… highlighted in the sky!

This nobori is actually an event calendar telling you about the next festival for children aged seven, five and three.

Their vermilion colour looks so sharp on the green background.

A nobori in dedication to a god is placed in front of the gate or in the shrine grounds as a symbol. For this kind of nobori, noble colours such as white, vermilion, purple or navy blue are mainly used. And for its fabric, it’s usually made of strong materials such as cotton, sakaki or sail cloth.

Looks like a movie scene: This scenery shows “Take No Nobori” in Bessyo Onsen, Nagano prefecture. Courtesy of Shioda Taira’s Culture and History.

For dedication to a god, folks carry the various nobori to a mountain top. Courtesy of Shioda Taira’s Culture and History.

People in a long line descend from the mountain. There is an old saying that you will not get sick for the entire year if you wear clothes made out of a nobori fabric. Courtesy of Shioda Taira’s Culture and History.

In this season, shrines often have their autumn festivals and some even have special nobori festivities. For example, the “Nobori Festival” at the Asama shrine in Tokyo is pretty famous. And then we have the eccentric looking “Take No Nobori” festival in Bessyo Onsen, Nagano prefecture. Here, people climb the mountain while carrying big nobori, pray for abundance at the top of the mountain and descend again. During this festival, you can see this quite mysterious scenery with people walking with lots of nobori.


These nobori are sold at the “Saitoh” shop, the one on the right saying “Curry Rice” with a matching yellow background.

There is quite a variety of nobori you can find everywhere in Japan.

Fabrics Now And Then

Of course, there are many shops selling nobori in the traditional neighbourhood of Asakusa. Finally, we asked one of the staff at the “Saitoh” shop about the specific nobori features used for stores:

Today, most nobori used for restaurants are made from polyester. Thanks to technology, we can now make any design on the PC and easily and quickly print them out with an inkjet printer in a large quantity. Moreover, that reduces production costs, he says.


The modern nobori are made of polyester and can be printed out in many colours.

The traditional cotton fabric is still popular in shops that commit to quality.

He explains further: In old times, hand dyeing prevailed and cotton and sail cloth were mainly used. For these, it needs a lot of time and effort to colour a fabric like cotton. In order to prevent one colour mixing with another, we have to trim and make a facing for each font or colour. Moreover, unlike polyester, the cotton doesn’t show vivid colours and is costly. However, the cotton fabric is preferred by people who value a traditional atmosphere.

Such a cool nobori of the rickshaw shop Asakusa Jidaiya!

So, obviously the nobori designs have changed over time. We thank all of you at “Saitoh” for your help! If you happen to be in Japan, try to notice these colourful banners swinging in the wind more often!

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  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your great works! I like the traditional styles,it seems like Japan is still originally from the period of Tokugawa.
    but I think the english version is too diffrent from the japanese version,for the origin is more vivid.unfortunately,I am not accomplished in japanese very well…T T
    so, could you promote your translation?

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