tourism

A Trip to See, Learn, and Make the Craft of Yamaga Toro

Tracing the Roots of an Art of Paper and Glue: Create Washi Paper Lamps with a Yamaga Lantern Craftsperson (2hrs)

Junya Nakamura, toroshi lantern craftsman
An up-close look at Yamaga Toro
Visiting the Yamaga Lantern Folk Craft Museum with Nakamura
Making washi paper lamps using the techniques of Yamaga Toro
Create paper lamps inspired by the top part of a Yamaga golden lantern called the giboshu

The history of the Yamaga Toro lantern-making craft stretches back over 600 years. Originating from Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture, these lanterns are made entirely of handmade washi paper and small amounts of glue, without any wooden or metal fittings. Yamaga Toro craftspeople are called toroshi, and undergo rigorous training to obtain such a title. In addition to lanterns, toroshi use Yamaga Toro techniques to create paper models of buildings such as Shinto shrines and castles; these sculptures are then used as religious offerings during the annual Yamaga Lantern Festival.In this program, first learn about the craft’s history through a visit to the Yamaga Lantern Folk Craft Museum guided by toroshi Junya Nakamura. Afterwards, head to his workshop (Nakamura Seisakusho) to watch a lantern-making demonstration from the craftsperson himself. Finally, use the unique techniques of Yamaga Toro to create your very own paper lamp, modeled after the top part of a Yamaga Golden Lantern called the giboshu.

  • Immerse yourself in the history of Yamaga Toro through explanations and stories from practicing toroshi lantern craftspeople
  • Visit a toroshi workshop to see the process of lantern-making up close
  • Learn Yamaga Toro lantern-making techniques directly from artisans themselves
  • Explore other traditional crafts of Yamaga (such as bamboo work, silk and ceramics) at Yamanote, a store on the first floor of Nakamura’s workshop
  • Browse and purchase Yamaga’s handcrafts from the Yamanote shop after the tour experience
  • Get personalized food and sightseeing recommendations
Junya NakamuraToroshi lantern craftsman
After learning about lantern-making from a toroshi craftsperson during a junior high school field trip, Nakamura underwent eight years of training and at the age of 19, became an independent artisan. While carrying on the traditions of the Yamaga Toro craft, Nakamura uses its techniques to create new creations such as mobiles and aroma diffusers through collaborations with other toroshi and his wife, Misato Tomita.
Misato TomitaOwner of Yamanote
Sells handmade crafts made in her hometown of Yamaga, such as pottery, uchiwa fans, and bamboo work, along with handcrafted goods that caught her eye during her travels. Through the shop, Tomita proposes ways of living that incorporate traditional crafts into modern life.
About the Workshop

Retracing the Historical Yamaga-Buzen Kaido Road: Sake Breweries, Hot Springs, Theatres, and More

Located in the northern part of Kumamoto Prefecture, Yamaga once prospered as an Edo period post station (shukuba) and shipping hub along the Kikuchi River, leading to the development of a unique regional culture. The Buzen Kaido road, which stretches from the riverbanks of the Kikuchi to Yamanote, is full of historical attractions — including the Chiyo no Sono Sake Brewery (since 1896), the koji rice malt specialty store Kiya Honten (since 1830), the Sakura-yu hot springs, where Edo period feudal lords used to rewind and beloved bath of the famous swordsman Musashi Miyamoto, and the Meiji-era Yachiyoza Theatre.

The Yachiyoza Theatre, built in 1910, is a remnant of the Meiji Era.

Yamaga Toro and the Yamaga Lantern Festival

The Yamaga Lantern Festival is held every August. The festival is famous for the Sennin Toro Odori — a dance performed by 1,000 women wearing Yamaga Golden Lanterns on their heads. But the festival’s main attractions are “votive lanterns,” elaborate paper replicas of shrines and traditional Japanese-style buildings. Toroshi make about 30 such lanterns each year, commissioned by the various districts of Yamaga and sake breweries. These are offered to Omiya Shrine with the call of “Hai Tourou!” and are then displayed in the shrine’s Toro Room for one year.

A Yamaga Toro reproduction of the Yachiyoza Theatre
Lanterns are dedicated to the Omiya Shrine through the Agaritoro Ceremony

Yamaga’s Handicrafts in One Place: Yamanote

Since ancient times, the abundant natural resources of Yamaga have been used to create handicrafts such as washi paper, uchiwa umbrellas, silk products, and bamboo crafts. Located on the historical Buzen Kaido road in Yamaga, Yamanote offers a wide selection of such local handmade works. The shop owner, Misato, offers a wealth of knowledge about local history; she’s the perfect person to ask, not just for information about Yamaga’s past and handicrafts, but also for the best restaurants and places to visit in town. Yamanote also sells mobiles, aroma diffusers, and other products made with the techniques of the Yamaga Toro craft but designed to fit into modern lifestyles.

The Yamanote shop sells various handicrafts from Yamaga
Aroma diffusers made with Yamaga Toro techniques
Program Contents

An Up-Close Look at Lantern-Making Inside a Toroshi Workshop

At Junya Nakamura’s workshop, located on the 2nd floor of Yamanote, you will have a chance to see the lantern craftsman’s techniques and skills up-close. The work is breathtakingly detailed: the use of bugami to mark where to cut, the technique of curving washi with a small wooden stick, and koguchizuke, a method of joining paper to paper directly on its edges, and more.

A close look at craftmaking techniques

Make Your Very Own Giboshu Lantern

Together with Junya Nakamura, craft your very own paper lamp inspired by the top part of a Yamaga Golden Lantern, the giboshu. Choose your favorite washi paper designs cut out in advance, and learn Yamaga Toro techniques such as koguchizuke (connecting paper directly by their edges) and the technique of creating curves on flat paper.

Carefully guiding guests through each step of the process
Curving flat washi

Discount Ticket for Complimentary Admission Included!

This tour includes a ticket that can be used for free admission to the Yamaga Lantern Folk Craft Museum and Yachiyoza Theatre, and is also valid for a 100 yen discount on entry to Sakura-yu, the hot spring beloved by Edo period swordsman Musashi Miyamoto. Please pick up the ticket at the Yamanote shop between 11:00-17:00, Thursday through Sunday.

Tour Code GKYG01
Dates Saturdays 13:00~
※The tour will not be held on dates marked with (-) on the reservation form.
Duration 2 hours
Schedule
12:55

Gather at Yamanote, registration.

13:00

At Yamanote, learn about Yamaga’s handcrafts from shop owner Misato Tomita. Afterwards, walk to the Yamaga Lantern Folk Craft Museum with master lantern craftsman Junya Nakamura. Tour the museum and learn about the Yamaga Toro craft, different kinds of lanterns, and the Yamaga Lantern Festival.

13:50

Walk back to the Yamanote shop and head to Nakamura’s workshop on the second floor to observe Yamaga lantern-making done by the craftsman himself. Make your very own washi paper lamp.

15:00

After a photo session together, feel free to browse the Yamanote shop. (Cash, Credit Card, PayPay, and public transit IC card are accepted.)

<Nearby Sights>

* After the tour program, participants can also visit the Hyakkado art gallery, located in a 150 year-old renovated townhouse next to the Yamanote shop, and Omiya Shrine, which displays about 30 different Yamaga Toro sculptures dedicated in the annual Yamaga Lantern Festival (open from 8:00 ~ 16:30, entrance to the Toro Exhibition Room requires an additional 200 yen admission fee).

The Hyakkado art gallery is located in a 150 year-old renovated town house
About 30 paper lanterns and model buildings are displayed in the Toro Room of Omiya Shrine
Languages JapaneseSupplementary explanations in English via translation device or lecture board can be provided upon request. Please make a note in the message box during registration to request this service.※An English interpreter can also be arranged for an additional fee. Please contact UNA Laboratories for more details.
Participants Minimum 2 / Maximum 4
Meeting Place
Yamanote
1375 Yamaga, Yamaga City, Kumamoto Prefecture
※For those coming by car, please use the free parking lot in front of Yamanote.
Reservation Deadline 7 days before the start of the tour (for example, please apply by October 3th for a tour that starts on October 10th)
Payment Method Advance payment at the time of reservation (VISA, Mastercard, Amex, JCB)
Attire None
Tour Conductor None
Note about Tour Conductors There will be no tour guide accompanying this program. Customers are responsible for managing their own itineraries.
Please Note
  • The tour will be held even in the event of rain, barring cases of inclement weather such as heavy rain or a typhoon.
  • All photos displayed on the website are for reference purposes only. As the workshop is not a tourist attraction, please note that the degree to which guests may enter the workshop may differ from day to day.
  • Guests who are under elementary school age may attend the tour accompanied by a parent or guardian. However, UNA Laboratories and Yamanote shall not assume any responsibility for accidents/injuries that occur in the parking lot and/or during the tour.
  • We advise taking out domestic travel insurance when participating in this tour.
Cancellation Policy 20 to 8 days before the day preceding the tour start date: 20% of the tour fee
7 to 2 days before the day preceding the tour start date: 30% of the tour fee
Day preceding the tour start date: 40% of the tour fee
Before departure on the tour start date: 50% of the tour fee
After the start of tour or no-show: 100% of the tour fee

UNA Laboratories COVID-19 Policy

UNA Laboratories is committed to ensuring the safety of our customers, staff, and community. In accordance with municipal, national, and industry guidelines for the prevention of infectious diseases, UNA Laboratories is implementing the following measures:

  1. 1. Guides will wear a face shield during tours.
  2. 2. Guests are requested to wear a mask.
  3. 3. Hand-sanitizing alcohol will be provided.
  4. 4. We will check your temperature and general physical condition at the start of the tour. UNA Laboratories reserves the right to refuse tour participation if a customer’s temperature is over 37 degrees Celsius.
  5. 5. We strive to maintain adequate social distance throughout the tour, so the maximum number of participants will be capped at four.

Travel Planning: Implementation

  • UNA Laboratories Inc. (Fukuoka Prefectural Governor Registration #2-951)
  • 3-12-22-302 Yakuin, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka Prefecture 810-0022
  • TEL: 092-982-7956E-MAIL: tour@unalabs.jp
  • Domestic Certified Travel Supervisors:
    Aya Tamura, Noriko Yahata, Rei Watanabe
  • Business Hours:
    9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday (Closed Saturdays, Sundays, and Holidays)
  • *Requests received outside of business hours will be processed the following business day.
  • *Domestic Certified Travel Supervisors are responsible for transactions held at the sales office that processes customers’ travel. Please do not hesitate to contact the aforementioned Domestic Certified Travel Supervisors with any questions or concerns regarding the travel contract.

Tour Information

Dates
Thu-Sun 13:00~
※The tour will not be held on dates marked with (-) on the reservation form.
※This program is scheduled to begin Spring 2021. If you would like to be notified when registration opens, please fill out the form below.
Duration
2 hours
Recommended Age
Lantern Making Workshop: 11+ (for those 10 and under, please inquire for more details about participation)
Workshop and Museum Tour: all ages
Price
5,800yen
(tax and material fee included)

※For guests under 15, the program price is 5,300 yen (incl. tax and material fee). For those under 10, the studio tour is free. However, guests under 10 generally cannot participate in the lantern making experience (please inquire if interested).