Japan’s age-old belief that the self and the natural world co-exist as one entity has its foundations in the polytheism of the Shinto religion.
That is, that the self and one’s natural surroundings are imbued with, and united by, myriad gods and spirits. During the Heian Period (CE 794-1185), reverence for this natural world also extended to welcoming guests to one’s home.Thus, people went to great pains to convey the utmost hospitality to those entering their home – from the respectful language and manners one used to the elaborate furnishings they decorated their homes with. This Japanese tradition of hospitality is called shitsurai. Among these furnishings was the bamboo blind, which is believed to embody many elements of the Japanese spirit.
Still in use after over a thousand years, during Medieval times it was hung in temples, shrines and the homes of the nobility where it represented a barrier between the secular and spiritual worlds. Hand-made and using only natural materials, the blind is a perfect embodiment of Shintoism and the Japanese spirit of shitsurai. Alongside kabeshiro and kicho furnishings, the sudare blind exemplified traditional Heian architecture (shinden-zukuri). Not long after this time, the blind also gradually began to be used in many of Japan’s 24 seasonal rites and festivals. The processes, techniques and materials that go into its construction are still identical to the ones that were used to please the Mikado a thousand years ago. Thus, the blind today still represents not only superior Japanese craftsmanship and aesthetics, but also the age-old spirit of Shintoism and shitsurai, Japanese hospitality.
The history of the sudare blind dates back to at least the Nara Period (CE 740–745),
We can find the bamboo blind referred to in the poems and literature of this time, dating as far back as the Manyoshu, the oldest anthology of Japanese waka poems in existence. During the Heian Period, the sudare blind (or misu, as it was then called) was an indispensable partition used in the residences of the aristocratic classes.Thus, bamboo was originally a vital element of Japanese high culture.
In Kyushu, an area long noted for its preponderance of bamboo trees, the plant has a special cultural significance to the area. As represented in The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, bamboo was said to contain an inner spirit and possess magical powers. Originally considered the sole dominion of the aristocracy, the plant was largely denied to the lower classes.
However, after the Meiji Restoration (CE 1868-1912), Japan’s process of democratization extended to bamboo, too, where it began to be employed in many homes as a simple sunshade. Prior to this time, the lower classes had fashioned their sun shades from non-bamboo materials, most notably reeds.
The etymology of the “sudare” blind has its roots in the actual weaving process itself: The texture pattern of the vertical weave was originally called “su”, while the word “tare(ru)” means “to hang down.”
From the aforementioned Heian Period to the Edo Era (CE 1603-1868), architectural design and methods of building construction underwent many changes – from Shinden-Zukuri to Shoin-Zukuri , after which time modern housing started to absorb a variety of influences and new building techniques. Due to these transformations, Japanese interiors changed from using traditional fusuma and shoji sliding screens in favor of Western-style doors. On the contrary, the principles and design of the original misu blind have essentially remained unaltered and unsubstituted since as far back as the Nara Period. Significantly, unlike the fusuma and shoji (which have their origins in the more recent Muromachi Period, CE 1336-1573) , the sudare blind is one of the few examples where the spirit of Japanese high culture and craftsmanship is still very evident in today’s changing world.
There are two main types of sudare blind
The misu , or ozashiki sudare, is a decorative interior blind, while our exterior sun shade has a more utilitarian purpose, and is designed to be hung from the eaves of the building.
The latter is predominantly imported from overseas, while the ozashiki sudare, due to its cultural importance, is almost wholly manufactured domestically.
Fukuoka’s Yame Region is the principal area of Japan’s bamboo production, sudare blinds’ main ingredient. It was from this same area that many low ranking samurai from the Arima clan supplemented their earnings by engaging in bamboo cultivation. After the Meiji Period, and the end of the samurai warrior class, sudare bamboo production, and the number of workshops dealing in handicrafts, began to thrive in the area.
Also at around this time, Machiya townhouses (a common sight in Kyoto’s cottage industry neighborhoods) began to utilize sudare bamboo blinds in order to help ventilate their interiors during Kyoto’s extreme summers.
Consequently, after the succeeding Taisho Period (CE 1912-1926), the demand for the Yame Region’s ozashiki sudare soared. Three of the factories that helped contribute to this manufacturing boom are still in operation today. Working in partnership together under the auspices of the Yame Sudare Shinkokai, or The Society for the Promotion of Yame Sudare
Products , we strive to keep alive this noble heritage. As an endorsement of its importance, the Government of Fukuoka Prefecture designated the Yame area’s products as artifacts of cultural significance.
Shikada Sangyo is proud to play its part in this tradition, and to help convey to the world the Japanese spirit of shitsurai.
At heart an agricultural people, the Japanese believe that all natural phenomena are imbued with a divine spirit. Thus, modern Japanese craftsmanship embodies an inherited consideration for the global environment.