On the morning of 20th April, Kiku and Miko-chan found Mama Kōjin outside the bathhouse directing Boss Panda has he leant up some screens against the kitchen window, which softened the sunlight that was slowly becoming stronger every day, as spring was in full swing now.
“Why do Japanese houses use so many screens?” wondered Kiku aloud. Mama Kōjin thought for a moment and replied, “it allows for a greater flexibility to use spaces and control light and heat without drastic methods. With interior screens such as shoji paper ones, or fusuma sliding doors you can divide a space if needed into smaller ones, but also screen for privacy. The exterior ones are usually to control temperature, or at least to soften the effects of sunlight. And again, the materials used and the appearance of the items evokes a sense of season, something that is very strong throughout Japanese culture.”
Miko-chan noticed that the lines of these screens were vertical, and light got through where the strands were sewn together. Mama Kōjin explained, “These are made of reeds, and called ‘yoshizu’, and they soften the sunlight coming in, but can be easily moved around, and also let the air through. The reeds that they are made from (yoshi) are beginning to grow now, which is noted in your seasonal almanac as the marker for the next few days. They definitely evoke summertime for many people and are also used outside different kinds of shops associated with summer too – such as eel restaurants (eel is eaten traditionally in summer and believed by some to counteract the feeling of heat), soba noodle restaurants where you can get cold noodles in the summer months, and also dessert shops where you can buy shaved ice with different syrups. In traditional houses without air conditioning, lots of little things are done to make the occupants feel cooler in the sweltering summers of Japan.”
Kiku thought about the blinds that hung outside the upper levels of the bathhouse and asked if they were made from reeds too. “No, they are made from thin strips of bamboo, and called ‘sudare’, but are used more all year round to soften light, but also protect windows and openings from the sun and rain. Because they are made in a horizontal way, they can be rolled up or down as needed, whereas the yoshizu screens are fixed but light and can be moved around as needed. Noren curtains were also originally used as sun shades for open doorways, but then evolved into a light moveable sign to hang outside shops and restaurants, to let you know that the shop is open.” Kiku loved the simple but effective methods that were used to change the look and feel of a space according to the seasons.