Two women and a man in traditional clothing are sitting on zabuton cushions on tatami mats in a large room divided by fusuma sliding doors at what appears to be an inn.
The man is warming his hands at a beautiful wooden hibachi used for keeping the water warm. The woman in the front appears to be preparing tea.
Fusuma are a beautiful and efficient way to quickly change a large area into several smaller ones and back. But what makes them really special is that they allow an occupant of a room to be aware of the presence of a person in another room. Even though you are in your own space, you are not alone, you are still connected with the other person.
In families who grow up in homes with rooms only divided by fusuma, each member undoubtedly feels much closer and connected to the others than members of families with each person having a room that is separated from other rooms by solid walls and doors.
Another advantage was that during Japan’s hot Summers, fusuma could all be opened to let the wind blow through the whole house. The boundary between the house and the outside was a delicate and transformative one.
An obvious drawback is of course the lack of privacy. The doors can be easily opened by whoever so wishes. The English traveller and writer Isabella Bird (1831-1904) who in 1878 travelled through the backcountry of Japan wrote to her sister about the fear that this lack of privacy induced in her when she stayed at a Japanese inn1:
This glass slide is one of a series of slides of Japan that was used by the New York State Education Department to teach students about Japan.
1 Bird, Isabella L. (1880). Unbeaten Tracks in Japan; An Account of Travels on Horseback in the Interior including Visits to the Aborigines of Yezo and the Shrines of Nikko and Ise. Putnam’s Sons.
Reference for Citations
Duits, Kjeld (). 1920s: Having Tea, OLD PHOTOS of JAPAN. Retrieved on March 22, 2023 (GMT) from https://www.oldphotosjapan.com/photos/441/having-tea
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