I am clad in a white kimono.
A hint of soft rush wafted pleasantly from the tatami beneath my feet.
I proceeded; one foot, then the other. My steps shrunk as I approached the wedding artifact.
The bridal curtain, imbued with a Kaga mother’s love, beckoned me.
There was no looking back now.
Staff members gently folded open the noren.
My hair was covered in a silken headpiece. It was lighter than I imagined, though I worried about it grazing the noren.
Touching the threshold between the Japanese-style room and the altar room was prohibited.
My steps had to be just right as I crossed the noren.
I cast my eyes down to my feet.
Perfect - I crossed it correctly.
I now stood before the altar.
I greeted and thanked my ancestors.
I knew the importance - the cogency - of this action.
That’s what it felt like to actually wear the white kimono at the Hanayome Noren Museum.
And anyone can experience this for themselves.
The museum’s many visitors bring their own desires: Desires to surprise their 90-year-old mothers who never had a ceremony of their own...
...desires to take photographs in the white kimono, since they wore a wedding dress to their own ceremonies...
...or even the desire to have their own nuptials in public, right here at the museum.
What will you bring once you step through the curtain?
The “Hanayome Noren” is also called the “Curtain of Resolve.”
It symbolizes the boundary between the bride’s family home, and the new home she is about to enter.
It also bears the well-wishes of mothers who want their daughters to be happy in their marriage.
The bride-to-be would set off from her family home before the wedding to the groom's home, where two cylindrical bamboo vessels containing water from both households await at the entrance.
She’d then take an earthenware cup called a “kawarake”, and a mediator will serve both families’ water into it. After drinking from it, the mediator then breaks the cup, naturally beyond repair. This rite is called “Awase-mizu”, or the “Mixing of Waters,” and symbolizes that the bride can no longer return to her family home.
After completing the Awase-mizu at the entrance, the bride would enter the groom’s home and greet one of his blood relatives.
Led by the hand, the bride then crosses under the hanayome noren and into the altar room, where she will greet her ancestors. Afterwards, the noren and paper doors would be removed, and the wedding and reception would happen right there at the groom’s house.
A week after the nuptials, the Hanayome Noren’s role will be finished.
It’ll be neatly folded and stored into a drawer, where it will sleep for decades.
Originally, one curtain per daughter was prepared, but nowadays they’re used to decorate festivals, or even reused for the sisters’ weddings.
Although the custom of passing through the bridal noren hasn’t changed, its usage has changed with the times.
It’s said the custom was born somewhere between the end of the Edo Period and the start of the Meiji Era. Meiji-era noren were made from cotton fabric dyed in indigo, slate gray, brown, and other natural hues. A unique trait of these curtains was their tortoise and crane designs, which acted as good luck omens.
The Hanayome Noren Museum’s exhibition hall features pieces spanning from the Meiji Era until the present day. The more modern the piece, the more showy the designs became, with some of them featuring bright, vivid colors. The fabric also changed from cotton to silk, dyed using the “Kaga-some” and “Kaga-yuzen” methods.
I heard something very intriguing from one of the guides:
Apparently, many people forgot about hanayome noren because it was meant to be a once-in-a-lifetime custom for the bride. And yet despite that, how did such a wonderful museum dedicated to these curtains come to be? It’s all thanks to the shopping arcade at Ipponsugi.
Snow covered Ipponsugi Street on the day of my visit. Dazzling sunlight played beautifully against the snow and the historical storefronts, several of which are recognized as National Tangible Cultural Properties.
Common theory suggests the history of Ipponsugi dates back over 600 years.
In 1581, General Toshiie Maeda was given the province of Noto by Nobunaga Oda. The area was bordered on both sides by a river. Maeda developed a craftsmen’s district on the east side, and a merchant’s district on the west. The stores lining Ipponsugi Street from the heart of that market town.
As the largest shopping street in the region, Ipponsugi was referred to locally as the “Ginza of Noto.” Development has continued; however, new roads were built after the post-War advent of cars, leading to many stores opening in the suburbs. This resulted in a decline in foot traffic along Ipponsugi.
Before, there were over 70 shops. Now, they barely total 40. And while shop owners found ingenious ways to stay afloat, the flow of time proved cruel.
Ipponsugi Street’s days were numbered. But then, its fortunes turned in the year 2003.
A magazine editor named Kazuko Sasaki came to Ipponsugi Street. She was covering town renewal projects across Japan, and during her investigations she met five shop proprietresses. Sasaki loved Noto. She came back many times on vacation. Then one summer, she went to the Issaki Hoto festival in Issaki-cho, facing Nanao Bay. It was stirring and beautiful, even among the many lantern festivals of the region. The festival was also decorated with bridal noren curtains. Sasaki already knew about their purpose at a woman’s wedding, but upon actually seeing them, she was moved.
She thought, “I had no idea you all had something like this.”
The proprietresses then had a thought; one that may have been what visitors call the “turning point”:
Their hanayome noren had been hibernating in their houses since their weddings.
So they said, “Why don’t we display our noren at our storefronts?”
They encouraged the other store owners and private citizens of Ipponsugi to join them in showing off their noren.
Some worried about the initiative becoming a contest over who had the prettiest or priciest noren, since the cost and quality of bridal noren can vary. Despite that, most people were amenable and cooperative, and finally they settled on holding the first bridal noren exhibition.
On April 29th, 2004, the noren were pulled from their chests and drawers, and hung once more at storefronts for everyone to see.
Ipponsugi Street, long in decline since 1965, became a street gallery. Many people from all over the neighborhood even came early in the morning to see the hanayome noren.
Visitors themselves voiced their desire to hang their own noren.
The exhibition would be held again the following year.
Bridal curtains weren’t always known as “hanayome noren”. In fact, different places had different names for them. Nanao called them simply “noren” or “yome-noren,” as in “wife’s curtain”, while in Kanazawa many people reportedly called them “Hana-no-noren”, or “floral curtains”.
The term “Hanayome noren” was first established at the second noren exhibition.
The now-discontinued magazine “Ginga” ran a feature on the hanayome noren. The magazine’s ardent fans from all over the country read the feature and came out to Ipponsugi Street to see them.
Shops sold copies of “Ginga”, who ran an issue featuring the hanayome noren, attracting tourists from outside the prefecture that were already in Nanao to visit the famous Wakura Onsen, who in turn decided they might as well go see the noren at Ipponsugi Street. It was a domino effect that proved the true power of human connections.
However, there was one issue. The hanayome noren were displayed only during the exhibition, but tourists kept coming all year long. The people of Ipponsugi Street realized it wasn’t possible to contain the noren to a single event, and so they first decided to display them in perpetuity across two kimono fabric shops. But it still wasn’t enough to satisfy visitors.
The government of Nanao saw the efforts of the Ipponsugi residents to revitalize their neighborhood, and made their own move. They asked:
“What can we do for you in our administrative capacity?”
To which there was only one answer:
“We want a place to permanently exhibit the hanayome noren.”
At first, they’d remodeled an empty shop and hung a noren at its entrance. Tourists would see its beauty and remark how they’d love to see more, but then they’d pass on the rest of Ipponsugi Street..
The locals banded together across the region and brought their request to the municipal government. And so, the Hanayome Noren Museum was born at the former site of a library.
Despite being at the center of town, the old library building sat unused. Ipponsugi locals wanted tourists to see their noren, and the government of Nanao saw an opportunity for urban and community development. They assented to the locals’ request.
The library was rebuilt as an exhibition hall -- the one we now know as the Hanayome Noren Museum.
It was the answer to the locals’ demands. The museum is a single-story wooden building made in the same traditional style as Nanao’s city hall. From the noren themselves to the interior design, it is a marvelous establishment that harkens back to the architecture of old Nanao houses.
After the premises were built, it was up to the Ipponsugi Street locals to manage the museum. Everything from funding to showpieces started from scratch.
The Museum raised a large amount of funds, established a managing body, and purchased noren as well as bridal outfits to exhibit. It also provided subsidiary payments to every store in Ipponsugi, who would help create original Museum goods.
As the number of visitors increased, the shops alongside Ipponsugi became accustomed to telling and retelling the history of Nanao and the hanayome noren. Not only does the Museum tell the story, but it also provides a “hands-on experience” of the ritual for visitors who want to enjoy this piece of Nanao history more deeply.
All of this made me wonder: what kind of stories can the owners of such storied establishments tell that you can’t find on the Internet? What kind of memories do the women of Nanao have with their hanayome noren?