Byobu ,Japanese Golden folding Screen | Traditional Japanese crafts


The icon of flourishment in the history of traditional Japanese crafts

How do you feel about this beautiful and magnificent folding screen? In this article, I will discuss the important Japanese cultures: Japanese golden folding screen, This traditional item has a deep history in Japan. It appears many times in the history that Japanese people have learned, and is still used in important places today. There are many different types of folding screens and very interesting to know its history and features , so we will take a deeper look into them.

The history of the folding screen is ancient, with the earliest records dating back to the late 7th century, during the reign of Emperor Tembu. It is said that the Byobu(folding screen) culture began when it was introduced to Japan as a gift from Silla on the Korean Peninsula. Later, in the Heian period (794-1185), they became very familiar to the aristocracy and their surrounding people, used to block the wind and the view, and as  furnishings for interior decoration. The advent of painting folding screens gained the position as the interior goods due to its effects on making rooms or houses more gorgeous and spectacular. During the Momoyama (1568-1600) and Edo periods (1603-1868), when the demand for paintings for appreciation increased, landscape paintings on Byobu using shades of ink, flower and bird paintings with gorgeous colors, and genre paintings began. After the Meiji era (1868-1912), with the influx of Western culture, lifestyles changed and the use of Japanese folding screen became rare in daily life. However, with the help of its traditional value and works for the exhibitions, the traditional Japanese folding screen (Byobu) still has maintained its cultural value and usefulness in specific situations.

The famous folding screen

1.       The Wind and Thunder Gods

This folding screen depicts the wind and thunder gods, the gods of the heavens. The original of this unique design By Tawaraya Sotatsu is in the collection of Kenninji Temple in Kyoto. By the way, there are several Wind God and Thunder God screens, each with a different arrangement, pose, and expression. The reason why there are several other works that differ from these originals is because later painters put their own interpretation on the original versions.

folding screen of gods

2.       Chinese lion

This is a folding screen work by Kano Eitoku, a painter of the Azuchi-Momoyama period, and is his most famous and representative work. The right screen was made by Eitoku in the Momoyama period (16th century), and the left screen was made by Kano Tsunenobu in the Edo period (17th century). This is one of the six-fold screens. Moreover, this work is thought to have been originally a larger work, and therefore a barrier painting to decorate a large hall. The Kano family served as painters for Japanese rulers such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Shogun, making it an important source of information on Japanese history.

folding screen of chinese lion

Why so many gold folding screens?

I mentioned above that there are many different types of folding screens, but gold folding screens are by far the most common, including famous works. I explained above that there are many types of folding screens, but by far the most common type of folding screen is the gold folding screen, including famous works. Why is that?  It is not just because they look gorgeous, nor just because they symbolize wealth. The key to this is the characteristic of gold leaf. The gold leaf, which shines delicately in the light, brings brightness to the closed room. In particular, since folding screens are bent alternately, the light reflected from the gold leaf spreads throughout the space, and the gold leaf creates brightness. (You can also learn about Gold leaf here!). So why was such a reflective effect necessary? The reason is that Japanese houses in the past were not well-lit environments.

old Japanese dark room

In other words, “People today live in brightly lit houses and do not know the beauty of this shining of gold in dim. Those Japanese in the past who lived in dark houses were not only fascinated by the beautiful color, but also knew its practical value. Because indoors, where light is scarce, it served as a reflector”. This is the reason why there are so many gold folding screens, and the main reason why gold folding screens have developed uniquely in Japan.

Modern Golden Folding Screen collaborated with famous characters


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Folding screen with Fuji
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Golden folding screen
Ultraman seven golden folding screen

Types of folding screens

Folding screens can be categorized according to two main perspectives.

1.Number of folds a folding screen has

First of all, let’s talk about the folds. Strictly speaking, it’s not so much the number of folds, but rather the perspective of how many faces can be made. For example, if you make a single fold in the middle of a piece of paper, you’ll have two separate sides. This number of faces is used to classify the folding screen. And basically, there are three basic types: six-fold, four-fold, and two-fold.

The most basic type of them is the six-panel folding screen. This means that it has five folds. In fact, this six-piece piece was just the right size for a blindfold on the border between rooms in a Japanese-style house. Many of the old folding screens are the same size as this one. However, with the development of the folding screen as an art form and as an ornamental object, the size of the folding screen was chosen not only to fit the size of the Japanese house, but also to better match the artistic expression. As a result, size variations such as the current four-fold and two-fold folding screens were born. 

2.Types for different situations

Folding screens are used in different situations depending on the color and material (and sometimes the size) of the background. Here are some of the most common types.

3.  Gold Folding Screens

Nowadays, it is used as an indispensable tool to enhance the main character of a “special place” such as a wedding reception. The most commonly used type of folding screen for this situation is the six-panel folding screen. Since ancient times, there are records of the Imperial Court and the Shogunate sending “Kinbyobu (Golden folding screen)” as gifts to foreign countries. This spectacular type of Byobu was born and developed in Japan.

golden folding screen

4.   Large folding screen

This folding screen was used as a partition in a tea room. The size is based on the size of two sliding Shoji doors and differs slightly depending on the size of tatami mats in each region. In other words, the size of the tearooms in each region is based on the size of the tatami mats produced in that region, and the folding screens are also made according to that size.

folding screen

5.  Rikyu folding screen

Originally used as a partition in the antechamber of a tea ceremony room. Nowadays, it mainly refers to the smaller version of the large folding screen. Traditionally, tearooms have been large or small, and the large screens mentioned above were used in large rooms where many guests gathered to have a tea party. However, when a tea party in a small room with only a few people, the smaller size is usually used.

folding screen

6.  Pillow Folding Screen

As its name implies, the pillow screen was used as a partition to keep out the wind and light when sleeping. They have been used in various ways in the lives of common people since ancient times, such as hanging items to ware, partitioning rooms, and decorating with waka poems and paintings.

pillow folding screen

7.  Folding Screen at the End of a Furnace

This type of folding screen is a little different from the conventional folding screen used as a partition. It
is a small folding screen that is used as a boundary between the tatami mats and the fuuro (a furnace used to boil water) in a tea party room. When inviting guests, it was considered impolite to show the furnace in front of the guests. These screens hide the furnace and indicate that the furnace and the tea room are separate areas.


folding screen


Nowadays, gold folding screens are used to
decorate celebrations with glittering colors, but I find it very interesting to
know the background and history of the times, which reveals a completely
different aspect. Japan in particular has its own unique culture, but with the
modern western lifestyle, even we Japanese don’t have many opportunities to
know the original values and meanings. Unfortunately, this also reduces the opportunities
for people to learn about the wonders of Japan’s past. I hope this website will
help you learn more about Japan, and I hope you will tell your friends who are
interested in Japan about this website.

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