Perhaps the very essence of Japan can be found in the hand painted screens, called byobu, which have flourished as an art form in Japan since the 8th century. Byobu literally means “wind wall” which gives a clear sense of their original purpose – to block drafts. Over time, their mobility and flexibility allowed them to be used almost anywhere, to block unsightly objects or repurpose a room, as well as serving as beautiful backdrops for tea ceremony, ikebana and visiting dignitaries. Ornate screens and those using gold and silver leaf helped proclaim the status of their owner. Like much of Japanese artwork, screens originated in China but were slowly but surely domesticated and changed in Japan, with a high point being the introduction of paper hinges, allowing the artist a single large canvas to create an image, rather than completely divided panels.
I considered writing on other subjects this month, but with my imminent departure from Tokyo, I realized that I had to cover something very near and dear to my heart. Add to that my discovery, at a big antiques fair earlier this month, a divine silver leaf byobu painted with naturalistic pine in the richest of greens and my topic was set.