If you have traveled in Japan before, you might have noticed curtains in the doorway of some shops. Did you wonder why they were there?
These curtains are called Noren (暖簾) and are traditionally found at shops and some Japanese homes.They are typically rectangular-shaped and come in differnet sizes and colors. The fabric is usually cut vertically from the bottom to allow easier passage.
Exterior Noren are mostly used by shops and restaurants as a protection against sun, wind and dust or to display the shop’s name and logo. Noren hanging outside indicate that a shop is open for business and they are taken down at the end of the day.
Public baths (Sento, 銭湯) and hot spring spas (Onsen, 温泉) use Noren with the kanji 湯 (YU or hot water) or the corresponding hiragana ゆ. Inside the bath, colored Noren are used to separate male (blue) and female (red).
Until the 1940s, Izakaya and restaurant customers used to wipe their fingers with the entrance Noren. Customers were able to tell how famous and renowned a restaurant was based on how dirty the Noren had become. However, this custom has completely disappeared over the years.
The word Noren can also be used as a metaphor in several business expressions.
– 暖簾を揚げる / Noren wo ageru – To start a business (literally: to raise the noren)
– 暖簾を下ろす / Noren wo orosu – To go out of business (literally: to take down the noren)
– 暖簾を分ける / Noren wo wakeru – To allow an employee to open their own shop (literally: to split the noren)
– 暖簾を傷つける / Noren wo kizutsukeru – To harm a business’ reputation (literally: to harm the noren)