Brief History


Although the Japanese screen was originally from China, it can now be found in many interior designs throughout the world. Some of the first uses of the Japanese screen were rather practical. It was used to prevent draft in people's homes as is indicated in the hanzi of its Chinese name (屏, literally "screen; blocking"; 風, literally "wind"). It long bestowed a sense of privacy. In classical times, folding screens were often placed in rooms to be used as dressing screens for ladies. Japanese screens can be set up to partition a large room and change the interior features of the space. Sometimes the entrance from one room to another needs a false wall for the aesthetics and to create a desirable atmosphere by hiding certain features of a place, like doors to a kitchen.



The traditional folding screen originated in China during the Han Dynasty. According to the 8th century work Nihon Shoki, one of the earliest folding screens to reach Japan was during the reign of Emperor Temmu (r. 672-686), which were received as gifts from the Korean kingdom of Silla. By the 8th century, folding screens became well known in Japan through China during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), which led Japanese craftsmen to start making their own.


Build and Uses

The chinese folding screen was made from wooden panels and held together with cloth or leather thongs.  These screens were used as partitions, painted with artwork and were not meant to be moved around. 

But with Japanese innovation, the Japanese screen served many other purposes.  It was used as backgrounds for entertainment, enclosures, tea ceremonies and outdoor processions.  These screens were produced with a lattice of stable wood covered with many layers of paper applied in a specific sequence.  The panels were held together with a system of strong paper hinges integrated the screens together which allowed reversible folding patterns and horizontal orientation.


Modern Day

Today Japanese screens are often machine-made, however custom hand-crafted byōbu are still available, mainly produced by families that preserve the crafting traditions.


Variations and other names

- Byobu: folding screen; literal tranlation is "protection from wind"
- Tsultate: single panel screen
- Fusuma: sliding door
- Shoji: modern term for translucent paper or windows
- Tobusuma: wood sliding screen