When we hear the word “shoji” in the West, we sometimes mispronounce it. Just for the record, it’s “show-jee” and it’s not limited to those rice paper room dividers we often find in futon stores. In modern Japan, shoji usually refers to wooden sliding door units, paneled with translucent paper. Specially made to smoothly slide on wooden tracks, these sliding doors are very quiet. But shoji isn’t limited to closet doors and room dividers. The art has gradually moved into window coverings and lighting fixtures.
Shoji throughout history
Originally, the concept of shoji was conceived in China. It was imported sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries and it carried a literal meaning in both Japanese and Chinese of “something to obstruct.” Back then, the word could have been translated to mean anything from a freestanding screen or panel with fabric or paper on it. The only thing that made it “shoji” was how it was used – as a room partition; so those four-paneled screens found throughout the U.S. are not too far off of the original intent.
As time moved on, shoji became something that was unique to Japanese culture, and by the 12th century it was only used to describe sliding doors with paper panels. That was how the translucent paper sold in Japan became known as “shoji paper.” Contrary to what many Americans believe, shoji paper is not made from rice; it is simply a rough paper that refracts and diffuses light, which gives it the ability to cast a nice soft glow in any environment. Rather than blocking off a room with a solid wood door, the shoji screen allowed light to shine through without sacrificing privacy.
In addition to its practical applications, shoji is known for its clever wood construction, which often manifests itself into a unique lattice-pattern while using a minimal amount of wood. Since the wood pieces are interwoven, they become much sturdier and strong. The simple use of geometric patterns stabilizes the outer wood frame and keeps the paper stretched across it. The craft of lattice work is known as “Kumiko” which means “woven.” Kumiko makes the shoji doors more beautiful and delicate, while at the same time adding strength and durability.
How is shoji used in modern-day home decorating? Here is a sampling of some shoji products now available from Chopa.com:
Japanese Shoji Metal Table Lamp
A contemporary take on a traditional Japanese design, this shoji table lamp will create the perfect finishing touch to any room or office. Nicely crafted, the shade is rounded fabric with a plastic inner lining. The frame is made of metal providing both texture and classic architectural design. The lamp measures 24″ in height and 8″ in diameter and uses a 40-60 watt UL listed bulb. You may also be interested in the matching floor lamp to complete your space.
Shoji Geisha Table Lamp
This Shoji table lamp features a beautiful Geisha scene and will create the perfect ambient light for any room. Use as a table lamp in your living room or as an accent light or bedroom lamp. Traditional in style, the spruce wood frame is finished in black. The lamp shade is backed with durable Shoji rice paper. This Asian table lamp measures 18″ tall and 7 1/2″ square and uses a 25 watt bulb.
Shoji Bamboo Print Room Divider
Chopa Zen Home’s beautiful collection of shoji screens are expertly crafted in durable lightweight solid wood. They allow diffused light to be seen while preserving privacy. Two-way lacqured brass hinges allow the panels to bend in either direction. These rich, zen black finished, solid wood panels are covered with a fiber reinforced, pressed pulp rice paper, and then silk-screened with an artistic bamboo print design.
Shoji Screen 4-Panel Mt. Fuji
Mt. Fuji, revered as one of Japan’s three holy mountains is dramatically captured in this elegantly designed Japanese-styled Shoji Room divider. The functional design provides privacy while adding a dramatic finishing touch to any living area. The shoji screen has a durable wooden frame with reinforced Shoji rice paper fabric. Each panel measures 17″ wide and is 70 3/8″ tall. The screen measures 68″ wide when fully extended. The two-way lacquered brass hinges allow the panels to bend in either direction.
Book: “Shoji- How to Design, Build, and Install Japanese Screens”
A Chopa Zen Home Best-Seller! This insightful book takes you into Japanese style with a complete how-to guide on designing and making shoji for your own home, apartment or office space. The author, Jay van Arsdale is a carpenter and shoji maker who teaches classes in Japanese tools and woodworking techniques.
This book includes information on aesthetics and design fundamentals, basic construction methods, screen materials, wood selection and a list of suppliers. It also provides an introduction to Japanese hand tools, planing and joinery techniques. There are numerous home projects including sliding and hanging screens, glass panel shoji, single and double sided shoji, skylight shoji, floor and table lanterns and much more. Make your own custom shoji creations with this indispensable book.