shoji and fusuma: paper wall panels


room with fusuma and shoji

The left panel with painted branches is a fusuma; the others (with grid pattern) are shoji.


corridor with shoji on both sides

Shoji are placed on the outer walls of a room or hallway so that they let in light from the outside.


fusuma at an inn

Here are some plain fusuma. The pair on the left separate one room from another. The pair on the right act as closet (oshi-ire) doors.


fusuma with paintings

These are some very fancy fusuma (in Ginkakuji Temple in Kyoto).

Both shoji and fusuma are sliding paper panels used like doors. So what's the difference between the two?

Shoji are made of thin, white rice paper. You can't see through the rice paper, but it is thin enough to let light through. Shoji are used like curtains on windows--they are put on the inside of glass doors or windows; when they are closed, they let light in, but people can't see in. Because the paper used is so thin, shoji have delicate wooden frames with wooden pieces every 5 to 10 centimeters apart which create a grid pattern on the panel.

Shoji are usually very simple and plain--just a wooden grid frame with white paper pasted onto it. Sometimes, shoji panels will have a square cut out of it and a glass panel inserted to create a little window to see out of. That way, you could see out into the hallway, for instance (read below).

In very old, traditional-style houses and buildings, rooms were on the inside of the building and the hallways wrapped around the outside of the rooms. In other words, if you were in a room, you could open the outside shoji panel, and instead of that panel being up against the outside wall of the building, you would step into the hallway of the house. The opposite side of the hallway would be the actual outside wall of the house.

Fusuma are also sliding paper panels, and often they are the same size (door-size) as shoji. The major difference is that fusuma are made of thick, opaque paper (opaque means that it does not let light through). Therefore, the function of fusuma is different from shoji. Fusuma are used as doors for closets (oshi-ire), and as partitions between two rooms. Think about it--you wouldn't need a closet door to let in light the way a shoji panel would. You also wouldn't need a wall between two rooms (think of 2 bedrooms, for instance) to let in light from each other (You would want light to come in from an outside window, but if the person in the next room had a light on late at night, you might not want to be bothered by that light).

Design features of a traditional Japanese house

tokonoma: decorative alcove | genkan: entryway | shoji and fusuma: paper wall panels | butsudan: Buddhist altar | kamidana: Shinto altar | ofuro-ba: bathing room | oshi-ire: closets

Other links

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