if you haven’t been to Japan, you’ve probably have been to authentic
Japanese restaurants, or seen movies situated in Japanese settings, and
most likely you have noticed artsy folding screens or panels with
beautiful elaborate artworks. These screens are called the Byobu. They
are composed of a number of panels designed with calligraphy and ornate
paintings. The Byobu is primarily used as a divider to close in private
spaces. Regarding its etymology, it literally translates to “wind
protection”, which means the byobu was originally meant to block drafts.
with other Japanese arts, the Byobu’s origin can be traced back with
fellow Asian country China, tracing its roots from the famous Han
Dynasty. After being much influenced by the Chinese, Japanese craftsmen
began creating and designing their byobu on their own. As the times
passed, different factors have influenced the byobu to evolve as well,
with various integration of different techniques and use of materials.
The Nara Era
The Byobu started as a one-legged panel. It was during the 8th
century when the panels evolved from single to many, and the byobu were
used as a décor in imperials courts for special events. During the Nara
Era, the byobu with six panels was the most common, and these were the
ones coated with silk and sewn together via silk cords or through
leather. Even the décors per panel were framed with silk, but the whole panel enclosed using wooden frame.
The Heian Era
During the 9th
century, the byobu became a furnishing requirement especially in homes
of Daimyos, and also at Buddhist shrines and temples. Metal hinges
shaped like a coin, called Zenigata began to be used to connect the
byobu panels instead of silk or leather.
The Muromachi Era
the 1300s, the Byobu became more popular and began to be used in homes,
shops and dojos. This era also gave rise to the two paneled Byobu, and
instead of the Zenigata, overlapping paper hinges were used. This made
the byobu lighter and more portable, but still durable at the joints.
Because it had just two panels, the design can now be more freely
uninterrupted by borders which inspired Japanese artists to create
nature landscapes and Japanese settings. The paper hinges though
necessitated the byobu to be lightweight, which prompted craftsmen to
use lattices from softwood via bamboo nails.
The Azuchi Momoyama Era and Early Edo Era
the Byobu became more popular to the people, the Japanese’s penchant
for the arts heightened as well. The Byobu became a regular to homes of
the samurai, which then stood as a symbol or power and wealth. This in
turn led to a major change in byobu designs, which then consist of gold
leaves and colorful drawings of nature, and depictions of daily life.
The Byobu of today
the advent of technology, the byobu of present day is now made via
machine, but traditional byobu made by hand are still made, especially
by those Japanese families dedicated to preserving Japanese customs and