Soaring Creativity of Byobu Folding Screens -1
TOKYO – What do you imagine when you hear the word “byobu?” If you are Japanese, you will probably imagine a big golden folding screen standing in a huge room with a tatami-mat floor. A byobu craftsman conveys the strong image of an old man wearing work clothes in a dim room, simply and quietly painting the screen’s surface or pasting paper into the frame. But what was the byobu folding screen first created for?
Not many people might know the origin. The byobu was born not only as an interior decoration but as furniture to prevent winds blowing through a Japanese house. The Chinese characters for “byobu” literally mean “prevent” and “wind.”
In the old days, Japanese houses were made of wood and paper, which made for draughty homes. In summer, the house was comfortable due to its naturally good ventilation; in winter, cold winds coming in through the gaps were harsh on the residents, especially at night. In such a house, a byobu was often placed at the bedside to protect the sleeper from those cold breezes.
Folding furniture like byobu is not unique to Japan. Similar furniture exists in Western societies as well. Materials and design are different from those of Japan’s, but a byobu-like folding screen functions as a “room divider.” When you search for “room divider” you will get hits for a lot of products available online from many countries.
In Japan, the number of traditional houses made of wood and paper has dramatically decreased, and I thought that byobu are now only seen on limited occasions such as wedding ceremonies and hotel parties. As weddings and parties become more Westernized, byobu may disappear altogether. I thought that another of Japan’s traditions was vanishing. However, the reality was totally different!
The potential for byobu to be used for new interior design and fashion ideas is great. How exciting it is! All aspects, from color and size to design as a whole, can be varied and tailored. Traditional styles like the one covered with gold leaves or mono-color, ink-painted pieces are in the minority today. Today’s byobu are so creative, varied and even quite personal. You can tailor a “byoubu only for you.”
The fundamental structure of the traditional Japanese byobu is the folding framework of wooden poles on which paper and gold foil are pasted. Those frames are attached to each other by washi paper. The screen can be folded or opened from either side with the washi paper functioning as hinges. Thus, the paper has to be high quality to stand for heavy use.