Byōbu, The art of Japanese Folding Screens

Byōbu, The art of Japanese Folding Screens

Screens that separate with beauty

Byōbu we have seen in many anime, live-action movies and Japanese drama series. They are Japanese folding screens, usually decorated with landscape paintings and calligraphy and are joined panels used to partition a room, to separate spaces within a building for privacy. These screens originated in China dating as far as the Han dynasty. Byōbu has been part of Japanese culture since the 7th century. One meaning of the word byōbu means ‘protection from the wind’ which suggests that it was original use a furniture piece to block drafts in houses. Byōbu is a form of art and it evolved over the centuries.

Byōbu

Byōbu

History

In the Nara Period (646-794) byōbu’s original form was a single standing legged panel. They were mostly six-paneled, covered in silk and connected with leather or silk cords. In the Heian Period (794-1185) coin-shaped metal hinges (zenigata) replaced the silk cords that connected the panels. In the Muromachi Period (1392-1568 two-panel byōbu were common with overlapping paper hinges that replaced zenigata. This made the byōbu screens lighter to carry and easier to fold. Byōbu popularity kept growing in Azuchi–Momoyama period (1568–1600) and early Edo Period (1600–1868) and led to radical changes such as backgrounds made of golden leaf and colourful nature paintings added.

These days byōbu are machine made, losing a lot of its romantic artistry except where handcrafted byōbu are still made. Byōbu’s popularity is sadly fading in Japan and is more seen as a traditional item. It is no longer a common home furnishing. Romantics at heart still revere them for their elegance and beauty. Every byōbu is a language of its own, and its art, they way it is crafted tells a story. It is up to the viewer to find the meaning in him or herself.

Byōbu must be handled with respect and care and here is a video that teaches us how to handle these amazing screens with the love and care they deserve. How to safely handle a byōbu.

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