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House with run-around engawa veranda and deep eaves, with shoji at rear of engawa.
Older-style house; the paper shoji have been protected from the recent rainfall by the deep eaves and engawa (veranda).
View along wood-floored engawa towards a corner showing shoji edge-on and, on the far side of the corner, from the inside, with light shining through.
Here, an additional layer of all-glass sliding doors runs outside the engawa. Inside, tatami flooring.

In traditional Japanese architecture, a shōji (障子, しょうじ) is a door, window or room divider, consisting of translucent (or transparent) sheets on a lattice frame. Where light transmission is not needed, the similar but opaque fusuma is used[1] (oshiire/closet doors, for instance[2]). Shoji usually slide, but may occasionally be hung or hinged, especially in more rustic styles.[3]

Shoji are very lightweight, so they are easily slid aside, or taken off their tracks and stored in a closet, opening the room to other rooms or the outside.[4][5][6] Fully traditional homes may have only one large room, under a roof supported by a post-and-lintel frame, with no permanent interior or exterior walls; the space is flexibly subdivided as needed by the removable sliding wall panels.[7] The posts are generally placed one tatami-length (about 2m or 3ft) apart, and the shoji slide in two parallel wood-groove tracks between them.[8] In modern construction, the shōji often does not form the exterior surface of the building; they sit inside a sliding glass door or window.[5]

Shoji are valued for not setting a sharp barrier between the interior and the exterior; outside influences such as the swaying silhouettes of trees, or the chorus of frogs, can be appreciated from inside the house.[9] As exterior walls, shoji diffuse sunlight into the house; as interior partitions between rooms, they allow natural light deep into the interior. Like curtains, shoji give visual privacy,[7][4] but they do not block sounds.[10][4] While shoji block wind, they do allow air to diffuse through.[9] The shadows cast through shoji, and visible on the darker side, are valued for their aesthetic effects.[1] In his book on Japanese aesthetics and architecture, In Praise of Shadows, the Japanese writer Jun'ichirō Tanizaki comments on the role of shōji in the interaction of light and shadows. Shoji are also thought to encourage a home's inhabitants to speak and move softly, calmly, and gracefully, an important part of the ethos behind sukiya-zukuri architecture.[9] Sliding doors cannot traditionally be locked.[10]

Shoji rose in popularity as an integral element of the shoin-zukuri style, which developed in the Kamakura Period (1123-1333), as loss of income forced aristocrats into more modest and restrained architecture.[11] This style was simplified in teahouse-influenced sukiya-zukuri architecture,[12] and spread to the homes of commoners in the Edo Period (1603-1968), since which shōji have been largely unchanged.[4] Shoji are used in both traditional-style Japanese houses and in Western-style housing, especially in the washitsu (traditional Japanese-style room).



A complex kumiko frame, open
Shoji may have simple rectangular frames (right, tateshige shoji, with vertical rectangles), or more elaborate patterns (left)

The shoji frame is assembled from interlocking pieces of wood or bamboo, held with joints and glue but, traditionally, no metal fasteners.[13] Coniferous wood is preferred for its fine, straight grain.[14]

About 200 traditional patterns are used; each has a symbolism, associated with the natural pattern it stylistically represents.[14][15] Patterns may also be combined.[16] While these are traditionally used for shoji, they are increasingly used for other woodwork items, in and outside japan.[14][17] Patterns can be classified according to jigumi, the foundational grid; this may be square,[18] diamond-shaped,[19] or hexagonal.[20][21] Some lattice patterns have heraldic meanings, identifying the trade of a shopowner, for instance.[22] There can be substantial artistry in frame design.[4]

The kumiko are the fine wooden laths of the screen, and the tsukeko are the heavier members (usually around the edge). The tsukeko are joined with mortise-and-tenon joints, with either a jaguchi joint or a more complex mitered joint.[23] The jigumi kumiko are generally joined with simple halved joints,[24] but where jigumi kumiko cross at a non-right-angle, or three cross at the same point (mitsu-kude[25]), the angles can become complicated.[26][27] Small kumiko may simply be friction-fitted and glued.[24]

"Kumiko" literally means "woven"; the halved joints alternate in direction such that the laths are woven. The interweaving is structural, and the paper (which is tensioned by spraying it with water[28]) further strengthens the finished panel.[7] No fasteners are traditionally used to hold the frame together. Rice glue can also be used in the frame joints.[29] Frames can easily be broken by stepping on them when they are dismounted and stripped for re-papering.[30]

While frames can be produced with minimal hand tools, specialized hand tools, power tools, and jigs for cutting identical lengths and angles speed the process.[31][32][33][16] These tools are often homemade; as shoji-making is highly competitive, these give kumiko shokunin a critical competitive advantage.[34][35] While frames are handcrafted, there is also industrial mass-production.[4]

Some simple kumiko types include:

  • mabarasan shoji (疎桟障子)[6] or aragumi shoji have large ~square openings, and are quick to assemble. This is the standard pattern used in most shoji.[36]
  • yokoshigesan shoji (横繁桟障子)[6] or yokoshige shoji have rectangles that are longer in the horizontal direction; they are more common in the east of Japan.[36]
  • tatehonshigesan shoji (竪本繁桟障子)[6] or tateshige shoji have rectangles that are longer in the vertical direction; they are more common in the west of Japan.[36]


Koshidaka-shoji are used more with shallower eaves, as the wooden dado is more waterproof than paper

The lowest portions of the shoji, which are the most likely to get wet[37] or kicked,[36] might be filled with a solid wood-panel dado, called a koshi (腰,こし; literally, waist or hip).[38] Such a shoji is called a koshizuke shoji.[36] If the panel is over 60cm high, or ~a third of the height of the whole shoji, it may be called a koshidaka-shoji (腰高障子; literally, high-koshi shoji), and the wood panel may be quite elaborately ornamented.[39][40]


Left, bamboo natsu-shoji (center, noren)

Open and semi-open[edit]

The kumiko openings are sometimes left open, and the kumiko used as a lattice[22], especially in summer, for more air circulation.[4] A lattice panel is called a kōshi (格子,こうし, literally "lattice"; not to be confused with "koshi", above). Kōshi may be made into windows (kōshi-mado: 格子窓, こうしまど, "kōshi-window") or doors (kōshi-do: 格子戸,こうしど; "kōshi-door"). Kōshi might also be translucently filled, and are often filled with glass.[40]

Frames may also be backed with wire mesh, for ventilation without insects.[38] Sudare-shoji (簾障子) are filled with Phragmites reed, cat-tail stalks, pampas grass, or fine bamboo, held together by a few rows of thread woven around the stems. They are also called natsu-shoji (夏障子: "summer shoji"), as they provide shade and ventilation.[41][42]

Cloth and paper[edit]

Shoji are most commonly filled with a single sheet of paper, pasted across the back of the frame (on the outer side). Shoji may also be papered on both sides, which increases thermal insulation and sound absorption; the frame is still visible in silhouette.[43]

  • futsuu shoji (普通障子) have a frame on one side, paper on the other[6] (common)
  • mizugoshi shoji (水腰障子) have a frame sandwiched between two papers[6] Also called taiko shoji.[36]
  • ryoumen shoji (両面障子) have paper sandwiched between two frames[6]

Shoji are not made with rice paper, though this is commonly asserted outside of Japan,[5] possibly simply because "rice paper" sounds oriental.[7]

Person soaking water into the glue lines of a paper-covered shoji, from the paper side (frame hidden below)
Paper on shoji is traditionally renewed annually; glue lines are soaked, and the paper peeled away.[44]
Wet shoji frame with a few rags of paper clinging to it, and a showerhead, just outdoors.
If peeled carefully, paper may come away in one piece.[30] Remains of the paper are pressure-washed from the frame.

Cloth, usually a fine silk , has traditionally been used, but usage declined with improvements in the quality of washi (a specialized paper which diffuses light particularly well, and excludes wind).[6] Washi is traditionally made from kozo (mulberry, Broussonetia papyrifera), mitsumata (Edgeworthia papyrifera) or gampi (Wikstroemia canescens), and it is sold in a broad range of types. Washi was formerly made in narrower strips, which were overlapped by a few millimeters as they were glued on; it now comes in wider widths, and in rolls or lengths the height of a short Japanese door. Bright white paper is most popular in Japan; off-whites are also available, but darker colours are avoided, as they would not transmit light. Washi began to be mass-produced in the 1800s, making it much more affordable.[7] Synthetic fibers were first used in washi paper in the 1960s (late Edo Period).[4][7] A small proportion of synthetic fibers may be used to increase tear strength.[45] The optical characteristics of washi, such as its reflectance and scatter, are selected by the maker.[5]

Paper is decoratively patched if torn,[5][30][10] and, traditionally, replaced once a year (sometimes less frequently[30]); the rice glue used to hold it to the kumiko is water-soluble[46][28] (wheatpaste is also sometimes used[30] and double-sided tape may also be used, especially for laminated paper[47]).

Laminated papers, coated in vinyl, last longer and are sufficiently waterproof to be wiped clean, but the thicker the plastic film, the harder it is to install.[48][49] After glue is dry (~6 hours[9]), non-laminated paper can be sprayed with water to tauten it (removing small wrinkles), but laminated paper cannot.[28] Shoji paper cannot be used in places where it will get wet, like a bathroom; even laminated paper will be affected, as water bleeds in from the edges.[50]

Traditionally, abura-shoji (油障子: "oil-shoji"), also called ama-shoji (雨障子: "rain-shoji") used paper (generally nishi-no-uchigami, 西の内紙), glued it on with vinegar-based paste, then oiled it. This made then water-resistant, so they were used where rain might reach under the eaves.[37] Oiled-paper windows were common in Europe, as European-style shallow eaves exposed the windows to precipitation. In Japan, deep eaves were conventional, and oiled-paper windows were rare.[40]

Plastic sheets and synthetic fibers[edit]

Less traditionally, rigid light-diffusing panels of plastics are also used,[51] such as ~2mm-thick[52] acrylic[53][54] or polycarbonate[55] which can be frosted or bonded to a printed film,[53] or fiberglass-reinforced plastic.[56] Rigid translucent panels cannot readily be spliced; one continuous sheet must usually be used per frame.[50] Plastic panels are waterproof, and some may be used outdoors year-round.[57]

Paperlike sheets of plastic nonwoven fabrics may also be used, including polypropylene (like that used in surgical masks and other disposable clothing).[58] A peel-and-stick film[59] made of epoxy[60] and white non-woven fiberglass is also used.[61][62] Nonwoven sheets of composite plastic (vinyl-coated polyester) fibers are also used,[63] and may be attached with removable fasteners rather than glue, although they are still single-use.[43]


Plate glass was introduced to Japan in ~late 1800s. It was widely applied to traditional kōshi doors, without much change to the traditional form and structure.[40] The oiled paper in ama-shoji was also replaced with glass.[37][40]

Yukimi shōji (雪見障子, snow-watching shoji) use at least some transparent glass, affording a view of the outside in cold weather. Glass can be used in large sheets or in small panes; the kumiko become window frames or muntins. Yukimi shōji often also contain non-transparent translucent sections, of frosted glass or other materials, for privacy. In suriage shoji, the translucent sections are divided horizontally like a sash windows.[36] When closed, these then look much like standard shoji (see images below). Peel-and-stick films that give glass some of the appearance of washi are also sold.[57]

Sukimi shoji (月見障子, moon-watching shoji)[6] are similar; they have upper panels that give a view, while the lower ones are translucent.[65][better source needed]


It is fairly common to have all-glass sliding doors on the outside of the engawa (veranda under the eaves), and translucent shoji on the inside, especially in cold climates.[5] A layer of paper shoji behind a layer of glass helps to insulate the house.[30] Before glass was available, there would be no shutters outside the engawa in fair weather, and opaque wooden amado (雨戸, "rain-door", storm shutters) in bad weather.[5] Shōji doors are often designed to slide open, (and thus conserve space that would be required by a swinging door[1]); they may also be hung or fixed.[6]

Traditionally, shoji run in a grooved wooden track, as shown. The upper groove is substantially deeper than the lower groove.[8][66][7] The lower groove is cut in the shikii, or threshold beam ("the shiki is high" means "it is difficult to visit the place", or expresses self-consciousness). The upper groove is cut in the kamoi, a lintel between adjacent posts.[10] The traditional wooden track requires precise fitting,[5] and the wood may wear with use, or warp due to changes in humidity.[36] A well-made traditional groove system is light enough that the door can be slid with one finger.[7][4][9] Traditionally, grooves were waxed; more modernly, grooves may be lined with low-friction plastic.[9]

When closed, adjacent sliding shoji overlap by the width of the wooden frame edge.[8] The double parallel grooves allow the shoji to be slid so that they occupy ~half of their closed width;[8] if a larger opening is needed, the shoji must be removed.[5] As the panels are usually slightly different, it is important to put them back in the same order, without swapping them around, so that they will continue to slide easily.[5] Shoji set up so that they can be slid in front of an opaque wall are not common in Japan.[8] Washi-on-frame panels can also be used to diffuse an artificial light source; in lampshades, this use is both common and traditional in Japan.[5][67]

Other suspension methods are sometimes used.[68] Kake-shoji (hanging shoji) are mostly used in traditionally rustic chashitsu (tea rooms). They are commonly hung over small windows in opaque walls of mud plaster; they hang from bent-nail hooks, one on either side of the top of the window, and the topmost frame member is extended into two horizontal projections that rest in the hooks (see photo above).[36][69]

Less traditionally, shoji can be hung on rollers, which run on metal rails mounted on the side of the kamoi. This avoids fit problems caused by humidity-related changes in the dimensions of wood.[36] Such rail-mount shoji require a anti-sway pin, but may otherwise have a smooth, unobstructed threshold.[70] Such shoji are also fairly easy to remove.[66]

Hiraki shoji are mounted on hinges in a doorframe, and open like a standard western door. Some are single doors, some double doors.[71]

In western-style buildings, shoji may also be installed as pocket doors between rooms, though this is not common in Japan.[8]

While shoji block wind, they do allow air to diffuse through, allowing air circulation.[5][9] Ranma (transom/fanlight panels above the sliding panels and kamoi) may have openings to further encourage breezes to pass through the building.[10]

Related screens[edit]

Literally, "shoji" means "small obstructing thing" (障子); it might be translated as "screen". Translucent shōji are usually meant, and they may be formally called akari-shōji (明障子) (illuminating shoji). Historically, however, "shoji" has, in Japanese, been used to refer to a variety of sight-obstructing panels, screens, or curtains.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Fusuma vs Shoji". Simplicable.
  2. ^ "What is a Futon?". Futon Tokyo. 1 October 2015.
  3. ^ see kake- and hiraki-shoji below
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Larson, Brooke. "What are Shoji? Complete Guide to Japanese Paper Screens". Japan Objects.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Sukiya Living Magazine article about shōji screens
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Shouji 障子". JAANUS -- the on-line Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h
  8. ^ a b c d e f "How do shoji screens work?".
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Linnea Anderson (April 16, 2015). "DIY Japanese Shoji Sliding Door Panels".
  10. ^ a b c d e "Life in a Traditional Home – 12 Clever Japanese Design Secrets". LIVE JAPAN.
  11. ^ "Shoin-zukuri: Japanese architectural style". Encyclopedia Britannica.
  12. ^ "Sukiya-zukuri 数奇屋造". JAANUS.
  13. ^ "Kumiko..." WoodSkills.
  14. ^ a b c Akcasu, Audrey (24 February 2015). "Kumiko: The exquisitely delicate side of traditional Japanese woodwork". SoraNews24 -Japan News-.
  15. ^ "Kumiko Design Motifs |Tanihata Co,Ltd".
  16. ^ a b Specialized hand tool for making grooves to take shoji screens, and very elaborate kumiko: Billing, Jon (20 May 2019). "The Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum". Big Sand Woodworking.
  17. ^ Pekovich, Michael (Mar 19, 2015). "Spice up your work with kumiko". FineWoodworking.
  18. ^ "Square Patterns".
  19. ^ "Diamond Patterns".
  20. ^ "Hexagonal Patterns".
  21. ^ King, Desmond; King, Mariko. "Shoji and Kumiko Design".
  22. ^ a b "Kyo-machiya(Kyoto Traditional Townhouses)" (PDF).
  23. ^ Billing, Jon (16 May 2018). "Making Shoji Screens". Big Sand Woodworking.
  24. ^ a b Billing, Jon (6 November 2016). "Masu-Tsunagi Kumiko Pattern". Big Sand Woodworking.
  25. ^ King, Desmond; King, Mariko. "Cutting the mitsu-kude (三つ組手)".
  26. ^ Raney (17 November 2009). "Kumiko – I just can't quit you!". Daed Toolworks.
  27. ^ King, Desmond; King, Mariko. "Hexagonal Patterns: General Information".
  28. ^ a b c "How to attach basic shoji paper using glue".
  29. ^ Riggan, Grace. "Traditional Shoji Screens".
  30. ^ a b c d e f Mariko (27 December 2017). "Renewing the Shoji Sliding Doors". Go! Nagano. Nagano Prefecture Official Tourism Guide.
  31. ^ "Here's how to get started with kumiko". MEK Woodworks.
  32. ^ Billing, Jon (5 March 2018). "Using Kumiko Jigs - Tips for cutting kumiko and problems to look out for". Big Sand Woodworking., Billing, Jon (30 September 2017). "Making Kumiko - How to accurately make consistent kumiko strips". Big Sand Woodworking., Billing, Jon (18 December 2017). "Making Kumiko with Pin Stop and Hikouki Kanna". Big Sand Woodworking.
  33. ^ Farrington, Mike (5 February 2019). "How to Create Kumiko at the Tablesaw". FineWoodworking.
  34. ^ "[Shoji] Tools".
  35. ^ Raney (14 November 2009). "Tooling for Shoji". Daed Toolworks.
  36. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Shoji Screen types". Wasou. 21 January 2014.
  37. ^ a b c "Amashouji 雨障子". JAANUS -- the on-line Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology.
  38. ^ a b Billing, Jon (30 March 2019). "Finishing up the Shojis". Big Sand Woodworking.
  39. ^ "Koshidaka shouji". JAANUS -- the on-line Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology.
  40. ^ a b c d e Odate, Toshio (May 26, 2015). "Kōshi-do". Popular Woodworking. Cruz Bay Publishing, Inc. Retrieved 18 January 2020. PDF, with additional images of process and tools, 3D drawings for a kōshi (lattice) door
  41. ^ "Akari shouji". JAANUS -- the on-line Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology.
  42. ^ "Natsushouji". JAANUS -- the on-line Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology.
  43. ^ a b "To Order Shoji". 'KITOTE', Shoji screens handcrafted with natural wood. (in Japanese). Kitote.
  44. ^ "Shoji Paper".
  45. ^ Noriaki, Kawashima; Kazumasa, Nara (26 July 2012). "Method of Manufacturing Impregnation-Coating Type Washi Masking Tape Base Material".
  46. ^ Friesen, Dave (27 October 2015). "Making Sokui (Rice Paste Glue) - Historical Knifemaking". Crossed Heart Forge.
  47. ^ "How to attach shoji paper using double sided tape".
  48. ^ "Laminated Paper".
  49. ^ "Warlon Paper - Japanese Shoji Papers and Shoji making supplies - Shoji Designs Inc".
  50. ^ a b "How To Choose the Right Shoji Paper For Your Project".
  51. ^ Van Arsdale, Jay (2013). Shoji: How to Design, Build, and Install Japanese Screens. Kodansha International. ISBN 9781568365336.
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  53. ^ a b "Waterproof Shoji Acrylic Plate".
  54. ^ "Warlon Acrylic - Shoji Designs Inc".
  55. ^ "Shoji Design Guide". Shoji Screens & Doors.
  56. ^ "LUMAsite® – Norva Plastics".
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  58. ^ "PP spunbond non-woven fabric has wide range of use". ANVIET (in Japanese).
  59. ^
  60. ^
  61. ^
  62. ^
  63. ^ Sumito, Kiyooka (2011). "Structure and functionality of steam-jet fiber Felibendy | Article Information | J-GLOBAL". Chemical Fibers International. 61 (1): 32–33. ISSN 1434-3584.
  64. ^ "Suriage shouji". JAANUS -- the on-line Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology.
  65. ^ "月見障子". tiku*taku (in Japanese).
  66. ^ a b "Shoji Systems".
  67. ^ "Washi Wonders in Gokayama - Toyama". JapanTravel.
  68. ^ "Shoji-Style Sliding Doors". Popular Woodworking Magazine.
  69. ^ "Kakeshouji". JAANUS -- the on-line Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology.
  70. ^ Shoji Hawaii, gallery
  71. ^ "Hiraki shouji". JAANUS -- the on-line Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology.
  72. ^ "Fusuma". JAANUS -- the on-line Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology.
  73. ^ "Akari shouji". JAANUS -- the on-line Dictionary of Japanese Architectural and Art Historical Terminology.
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External links[edit]