Lifestyle | Kateigaho International Japan Edition

Artistry unfolds: Glimpsing the souls of nature-loving byōbu artists

The folding screen was once an indispensable item of furniture in Japan. Screens were set up for special occasions such as weddings; unfolding a single byōbu folding screen transformed an ordinary room into a magical space. Many of the screens in Yoshihiro Takishita’s collection of more than 200 are by unnamed artists.

“I’m not concerned about the artist’s name,” he says. “Nor is it a case of the older the screen, the better. Edo, Meiji, Taisho, Showa … byōbu from every era have something unique to offer. Each is suffused with the spirit of the artisans who made it. And every screen has been put to practical use while passed down from generation to generation.”

Goodnight, sleep tight: Low screens known as makura (pillow) byōbu were placed near the head of a futon to block drafts or provide privacy. The colorful painting on this Edo Period (1603-1868) one promises to inspire pleasant dreams of festival scenes.
Goodnight, sleep tight: Low screens known as makura (pillow) byōbu were placed near the head of a futon to block drafts or provide privacy. The colorful painting on this Edo Period (1603-1868) one promises to inspire pleasant dreams of festival scenes.

Recognizing anew the beauty of objects grounded in everyday life is also the inspiration for Takishita’s lifework: 40 years devoted to reconstructing and revitalizing traditional homes. Finding old farmhouses slated for demolition, he has dismantled and rebuilt, then rejuvenated them into structures suitable for contemporary living. Many of the byōbu now in his possession were found in the storehouses of these old homes, on the brink of being discarded.

Determined to incorporate them somehow into his current lifestyle, he moved a thatch-roofed house from Fukui Prefecture, near his birthplace, to a hill in Kamakura overlooking the sea, and remodeled it into a comfortable residence. Its many rooms are now graced with byōbu whose designs complement the atmosphere of each space they inhabit. The effect is highly original, not to mention unconventional.

Nothing boring here: A huge wild boar spans all six panels of a Meiji Era (1868-1912) screen that most likely once belonged to a Buddhist temple. Takishita prefers byōbu folding screens with powerful images like this one — other favorites are dragons and tigers — for display in his entrance hall. It's a great way, he believes, to give guests a hearty welcome.
Nothing boring here: A huge wild boar spans all six panels of a Meiji Era (1868-1912) screen that most likely once belonged to a Buddhist temple. Takishita prefers byōbu folding screens with powerful images like this one — other favorites are dragons and tigers — for display in his entrance hall. It’s a great way, he believes, to give guests a hearty welcome.

“When I look at byōbu, it’s as if all those different eras speak to me,” Takishita says. “Screens made by craftsmen of a particular epoch and passed down through the same family are precious assets that we can never hope to replicate in today’s world. Every byōbu is the work of artisans who lavished all the skills their age had to offer, and a repository of the sentiments and experiences of the generations who used it.”

Auspicious: Slightly taller than the typical folding screen, this pair of six-panel daimyo byōbu from the Taisho Era (1912-26) was probably used at wedding ceremonies. A flock of cranes, seemingly on the verge of leaping forth from their glowing gold-leaf background, animates and brightens the atmosphere.
Auspicious: Slightly taller than the typical folding screen, this pair of six-panel daimyo byōbu from the Taisho Era (1912-26) was probably used at wedding ceremonies. A flock of cranes, seemingly on the verge of leaping forth from their glowing gold-leaf background, animates and brightens the atmosphere.

Through byōbu, we can glimpse the souls of the artists who expressed their love of nature in these screen paintings, and the souls of the people who cherished those images as part of their day-to-day existence. Antique folding screens are a priceless legacy to us from earlier centuries. By incorporating them once again into our homes, we enrich our own lives.

“We must have ears capable of hearing what the byōbu tell us,” Takeshita says.

This is the second installment in a four-part series on architect Yoshihiro Takishita’s antique byōbu collection.

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