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Texas ISD School Guide
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Travel, Teach, Live in Japan

Shoji Screen – More Than Just a Room Divider

Western civilization has borrowed many different elements from the Japanese culture and adopted them as their own. The Shoji screen is a prime example of one of these elements. These screens can work to illuminate a wall in your room, or they can be used to partition off a space. With their natural simplicity the effect that a Shoji screen has on a space is calming and soothing, and because of these qualities it has become a popular design element in Western culture, room design as well.

The screen itself consists of a number of wooden sections that fold together. Each section consists of a frame that surrounds an insert of rice paper. The traditional Shoji screen is constructed of actual rice paper, which is replaced annually at the New Year. Modern variations of the Shoji screen use sturdy, synthetic material in place of rice paper. The modern screens are more durable than their original rice paper counterparts.

While the traditional Japanese Shoji screen is a sliding screen, the more common interpretation in the Western world is the folding screen in a free standing application. While it is still used as a sliding screen, it is far more common to find a free standing Shoji screen in a room design in the West.

The primary credit for introducing the Shoji screen to the United States belongs to the well-known architect Frank Lloyd Wright. If you look at any of his designs you can clearly see that he embraced them as a fundamental element in his aesthetic. Using the Shoji screen as inspiration for windows, doors and even furniture, Wright’s designs have proven to be timeless, as beautiful and functional today as they were upon first inception.

The Japanese design aesthetic is balanced and harmonious, and the Shoji screen fits seamlessly into this design sensibility. The screens, whether modern or traditional, help to enhance the function and form of the space in which they are used. They can be used to illuminate a dark corner, and they can be used to define a private corner. They perform either duty while bringing a calm balance to the space.

The Japanese Shoji folding screens, unlike the heavy Chinese stationary screens, were designed to be mobile. They were used to create an intimate space for tea ceremonies, or they were arranged as a background for a concert. Sturdy and lightweight they created private spaces for Buddhist rites. The emphasis on these screens was that they be flexible and mobile, so they were created with a lattice of wood covered with many layers of rice paper in a process called, karibari.

The original screens used strong paper hinges allowing them to fold in both directions, which made the screens both flexible and functional. Even today the Shoji screen works wonderfully well as a window cover, room divider, wall covering, door treatment and partition just to name a few of its applications. They are particularly well suited for large loft spaces, spas and public spaces like restaurants. They bring with them both an artistic element and a functional element to any space they grace.

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