Felt That One

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About 5:30 we had another strong quake. This one was in the Niigata/Nagano (新潟・長野) area, still a fair distance from here, but felt a little jarring here.

I was practicing shuji in my special room when the tremor hit. My house has too many rooms for one person. One of the rooms is a traditional Japanese room, having: tatami (畳) floors; oshiire (押入) closets with fusuma (襖) doors; a large tokonoma (床の間); and sliding doors that open on the garden and neighboring rice fields. I have set this room aside for practicing my Japanese arts and entertaining my guests.

Today was the first time I have made time to practice at home. It was a good feeling. Thanks to a few personal blows over the past half a year (and the time-suck known as cable TV), I have been very sluggish and semi-motivated; taking some positive action really helps to chip away at the stasis.

Traditional Japanese rooms are often referred to as wa-shitsu (和室), which just means “Asian room”. Here’s a little detail about some common elements.

Tatami sectionTatami are mats made from tightly woven grass. They are typically 90cm x 180cm and are several centimeters thick. Floors are built below the sills so that mats can be laid in flush with the sills. Nice mats have decorative fabric along the long borders. Common color schemes are dark green and gold, or violet and gold. The tatami have a pleasant natural odor and are fairly water-resistant. (Yes, I had an accident in a wa-shitsu.)

Oshiire are closets. The kanji characters are ‘push’ and ‘into’, which I find to be quite amusing. It gives me the mental image of trying to store too much in one little closet. We often see this image on TV commercials for vacuum storage bags. Oshiire with fusuma doorsA housewife is desperately trying to stash all the winter clothes and bedding. Traditional size is the same as one tatami, this unit of area is called jou (畳).

Doors on closets are typically fusuma, which are light sliding doors with heavily papered surfaces. Fusuma are also used to separate wa-shitsu, particularly during colder weather. Shoji (障子) are another type of sliding door that consist of a lightweight wooden framework and a thin paper sheet glued to one side. These doors are sometimes used in the summer because they pass light and give a cooler feeling. They are never used for closet doors.

Bare tokonomaTokonoma are recessed areas with wooden (and often raised or stepped) floors. One jou is a common size, but they sometimes vary from that. The meaning of the kanji is actually “sleeping space”, which leads to all sorts of speculation about its use centuries ago. Nobody seems to know authoritatively, but I have read about Korean homes from more than a hundred years ago that had similar places for sleeping. Typically these are considered a display area for ikebana (生け花・活け花) flower arrangements and hanging kakejiku (掛軸) – scrolls with inspirational or religious messages. My tokonoma is currently bare. I hope to write and mount my own scroll or purchase one to get things started. A friend has told me she will give me one, but I won’t push since they are expensive items.

Ranma (欄間) are listed in my dictionary as “transom windows”. They are wooden panels with designs carved into (and through) them. Some ranma have elegantly detailed relief carvings while simple versions might just be thin panels with a design cut through them on a scroll saw. These are mounted in the section of the wall above door-level, allowing air (and sound) to pass through the house. My house is a simple place and, as such, I have no ranma.

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2 Responses to “Felt That One”

  1. What are Sunoko? « Neo-新びっくりブログ Says:

    […] the photo I laid several sizes out on my tatami floors. Please note that they should never be used on the mats. Typically we don’t even wear […]

  2. Spot On « Neo-新びっくりブログ Says:

    […] New or re-covered tatami mats have a nice green color to them since the outer surface is made from fine tightly woven grass. As […]

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