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Traditional Japanese Noren - Past and Present

The History of Traditional Japanese Noren

Thousands of years ago, in the ancient times of the Jomon Era, Japanese ancestors wove rudimentary curtains of natural materials - long grasses, reeds, and large leaves - to create a barrier between the outdoor elements and their living spaces and temples. These curtain-like barriers evolved over the centuries and, beginning in the Heian Era, came to resemble what we know as modern-day Japanese Noren curtains. What began as protection from the sun, wind, heat, cold and dust, became a form of advertising, as the curtains were displayed in shop doorways with a logo, or crest, signifying the contents of the enclosed space and often representing the societal status of its owner. As the rate of literacy increased throughout Japan in the 18th century, kanji inscriptions began to replace images.

Japanese Noren Curtains Today

The traditional Japanese Noren of today are rectangular cloth or hemp fabric panels with a hemmed slit down the middle. The slit provides easy passage through an opening while maintaining protection from the elements, a sense of privacy, and a filtered light source. Seen most frequently on storefronts and businesses in Japan, Noren indicate the type of product being sold, and if the curtain is still hanging, the fact that the store is open for business. Many people outside of Japan may be familiar with the Japanese curtains hanging in the kitchen and bathroom doorways of their favorite sushi restaurant, shielding the chef and back rooms from happy diners.

Adapting Authentic Japanese Noren into Western Design and Interior Decorating

Over the years, Noren have come to serve many desirable design functions, both in terms of style as well as function. For an Asian-inspired look, modern decorators hang them as dividers between rooms, as curtains on doorways or windows, or as hanging wall decorations. Additionally, several curtains can be strung together to partition off portions of a large room without closing off the space completely. Often, the curtains will be draped near a formal main entrance way to block viewing into the rest of the home. Noren are also considered the “softest” form of screening in Japanese design, as the fabric is not only soft to the touch as you pass, but also because the curtains flutter in the breeze, and allow sounds and smells to float through. Traditional Japanese Noren are easily installed using curtain rods with suspension brackets, thin bamboo poles, or long wooden dowels from a hardware store; they are generally sewn with loops or a large hollow hem for feeding a rod through.