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What are Noren?

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  • Written By: B. Turner
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Noren are traditional fabric curtains that play an important role in Japanese history and culture. These curtains date back to the Jomon era of Japan, which stretched from 12,000 BC to 300 BC. In ancient times, the Noren were used to protect temples and residences from external elements like dust, rain, and sunlight. They also provided a sense of privacy both in the home and in Japan's public bathhouses. Today the Noren play both a functional and aesthetic role in Japanese homes and businesses.

Indoors, these fabric curtains are often used to separate two rooms, or to divide a large space into smaller sections. They also serve as window coverings or curtains, and may be hung in front of a door to allow some air and light in while still maintaining a sense of privacy. The Noren can also be hung on the wall as a decorative and historical focal point within a room.

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Historically, businesses used the Noren to indicate whether the store was open or closed. Each morning, shop keepers hang these fabrics over doors or windows, letting shoppers know that the store is open. In the evening, the curtains are brought down and folded away so customers can tell that the store is closed for the day. While some stores still use these fabrics in this manner, they are more often used to display advertising, or as a nod to Japanese culture. The Noren also help to keep out street dust and dirt while allowing customers a peek into the shop from outside.

These fabrics typically feature a square or rectangular shape, and come in many lengths to meet the needs of different applications. A half Noren covers only the top portion of a door or window, while Noren-length fabrics are extra long, and extend well beyond the length of a standard door. Each of these fabrics are slit along the entire length to make it easier to enter or exit.

Traditional Noren featured a white and cobalt blue design, which is still found on many modern fabrics. Today, these curtains often feature traditional Japanese designs, including images of the Geisha, temples, or Japanese characters. Some also incorporate religious or Zen images, like the brush stroke circle. Others feature scenes of nature or flowers, water and other natural images. They can be woven from a variety of materials, including hemp, linen, cotton, or other fabrics.

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