Chinese screens and Japanese screens are fast gaining popularity with the West for their beauty and decor. Their history spans back over a thousand years to China, where the first folding screens were discovered in the 8th century AD. Chinese screens originally served as dividers painted with artistic designs. The first Chinese screens were bulky, heavy wooden configurations that were meant to stay in one location.
The Japanese, however, evolved the folding screen into its most recognizable form - the one we see today. Japanese screens come in six varieties: Byobu, Tsuitate, Fusuma, Shoji, Tobusuma and Sugido. One of the most popular varieties is the "Shoji," which means translucent paper doors or windows. Almost all of the Japanese screens and Chinese screens we sell on our site are of the "Shoji" variety.
The Japanese refined Chinese screens and began using them for many purposes, including religious rites, backgrounds for plays and dances, tea ceremonies, room dividers and outdoor processions. Also of interest was that the number of panels in a Japanese screen denoted what it was used for. For example, a tea ceremony may require a simple Japanese screen with just two panels, while a backdrop for a dance may require an ornately painted screen with eight panels.
The main difference that distinguished the Chinese screen from the Japanese screen was the latter's flexible and lightweight design. An ingenious system was created by the Japanese to increase flexibility. This consisted of a lattice of wood covered with multiple layers of strong paper hinges, which looked something like a karibari. This also allowed for reverse folding of the Japanese screen.