On a hot summer afternoon, as I sit in my living room reading, with the windows wide open, I hear two distinctly “summer” sounds. The first is the cicadas, a somewhat irritating sound that just reminds me of how hot it is.
The second, a far more welcome sound, is the soft tinkle of my neighbor’s furin (wind chime).
Years ago when I was living in Kumamoto, a friend told me that just hearing the sound of a furin made her feel cooler, because it meant there was a breeze. I don’t know if she was right or if I’m just particularly suggestible, but I, too, find myself feeling cooler whenever I hear that lovely sound.
Many Japanese have furin hanging from their eaves in summer, so a gentle tinkling is often to be heard when strolling in residential neighborhoods.
The sound varies, depending on what the furin is made of.
Traditional furin are cast iron (or some other metal)–miniature versions of traditional Japanese bells. The clapper looks like a washer hanging by a piece of string inside the furin, to which is attached more string and a “tongue” of rectangular paper, often with a summertime wish or sentiment written on it. As these photos show, a metal furin is quite durable and can last for many seasons (although the tongue may have to be replaced from time to time).
Furin made of blown glass have also been popular for the last two or three hundred years in Japan. They are usually round, like a goldfish bowl, and sometimes have goldfish painted on them for that reason. Personally, I like the watermelon-shaped one at my local fruit seller.
And finally there are ceramic versions, which come in a variety of shapes and colors.
Every July (in 2017, July 2-22) at Ikegami Honmonji temple, near Tokyo’s Ikegami station, hundreds of furin are strung across the approach to the temple.
Visitors are invited to draw pictures and write messages on plastic tongues and are then assisted by a volunteer with a ladder to add their furin to the others already strung up. It gives the temple grounds a festive atmosphere.
And when there is a breeze, the air is filled with the sound of the furin ringing. (The breeze was refreshingly stiff when I visited, so the sound of the tongues flapping is actually more audible than the ringing itself.)
As more and more of us close up our houses and turn on air conditioners, fewer and fewer people hang furin. Nonetheless, for me, they continue to be a particular summer delight, making me thankful for traditionalist neighbors and local merchants who still hang furin outside their traditional storefronts. And I’m really glad that I live not far from Ikegami Honmonji, where furin are actually celebrated!