The Beautiful Wall Scrolls of Japan

In the history of Japan, they have been able to create and innovate art through their involvement and support of the crafts. You can find all kinds of artwork in Japan like statues, ukiyo-e, emaki, and several other forms of the great art that they are known to produce. Among the many forms of art you can find, there is one that really made its mark during the Heian period until the Edo period which made this item one of the few wall decorations that really showcase the Japanese culture. It is the Kakemono or the Japanese wall scrolls of Japan.

Araki Juppo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The History of the Hanging Japanese Wall Scroll and the Paintings on Them

It is called kakemono because the kanji characters that make up that word means “hanging thing”. It also goes by the name kakejiku which means “hung scroll”. These things usually have either a Japanese scroll painting on it or some artsy calligraphy. Either way, the artwork on it is mounted with silk fabric edges. Basically, it is the Japanese version of a portrait or canvas painting but instead of it being framed, the artwork is displayed with a use of a scroll looking device.

The kakejiku was first introduced to Japan during the Heian period which was from the year 794 up to the year 1192. It came from China through the Buddhist missionaries that would carry Buddhist paintings which are on these scrolls to spread the word of their religion when it was still solely in China, the kakejiku weren’t used as decorated immediately. Most of the time, they used these scrolls as proof of what they are preaching. The moment Buddhism got to Japan though, these scrolls was already introduced as decorative paintings as well.

When the time of the Muromachi period came in the year of 1334 until the year of 1573, the Japanese housing and architecture had already developed quite a lot. Their houses now had particular rooms that they called washitsu which meant that it was a Japanese-style room. The washitsu can be described as a room which uses tatami mats as flooring and this is also where you can find one of the most important features in the Japanese architectural home. This feature is called the “Tokonama” and it is a space in the washitsu that is dedicated to things that connect art and daily life. With this being the purpose of the space, the kakejiku grew in popularity. It was something that fit perfectly in the tokonoma and at the same time, it perfectly fits the theme or purpose of the space as well because of the artwork on these kakejiku. Usually, the paintings on these scrolls would be things like landscapes, flowers, animals, poetry, and many other things that really does connect the daily life of a person to the art of the world.

When people with influence like something, the tendency of the majority is to follow the lead of the influence. This fact of the world is what helped the kakejiku grow in popularity even more because when the Momoyama period happened from the year of 1573 up to the year of 1600, the tokonoma architectural style and all the things found in the tokonoma developed even further. This happened because of two great sovereigns who were Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

These two powerful people loved chanoyu or the tea ceremonies very much. The tokonoma style along with the decorations, like the kakejiku, hit its peak in popularity during these times. Another factor that propelled its popularity was Sen no Rikyuu’s statements about the kakejiku. This man was known to be somewhat of a master of the tea ceremonies and there came a time during the Momoyama period that he mentioned the importance of the kakejiku. This might not have been an intended advertisement for the kakejiku but because a man that was highly regarded due of his knowledge of the tea ceremonies said that it was important, the people who were fascinated with the tea ceremonies also started to get into collecting the kakejiku.

This popularity of the kakejiku was maintained throughout the Edo period, which lasted from the year of 1603 up to the year of 1868 because this period was generally a peaceful time in Japan. There were a couple of wars here and there but overall, the culture of Japan was able to blossom even more because people were able to focus on their crafts and not on war. This peaceful era produced a lot of great artists that competed with one another so all kinds of traditional and unique art were mounted on the kakejiku during that period in time.

After the Meiji period, people became free to choose their own occupation and this revitalized the art scene in Japan because people started to practice their crafts not because they had to but because of the passion, they had for it. People who work because it’s something they are passionate about usually go on to create amazing things and with this in mind, the kakejiku made during this period was improved even more by the artists who were trying to improve themselves.

The Different Kinds of Silk Japanese Wall Scrolls 

By 狩野光信 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It was stated earlier that there are quite a lot of designs that can be used on these popular Asian décor. All these designs are normally transferred to the kakejiku with a use of a brush or a fude. These designs usually play around the concept of Zen but there are some designs that have been considered to be the usual kakejiku and these “usual” designs have specific names that categories the artwork you can see on the kakejiku.

For example, a painting of a landscape using only one color is called “suiboku-sansui” because of the landscape, as the subject of the painting is called “sansui” while the art of painting something in just one color is called “suiboku-ga”. Combining these two concepts of art led to the combination of their names as well to identify what type of painting was placed on the scroll.

Another solid example of a usual kakejiku is the “shikibana”. This means four flowers which are usually associated with the four seasons of Japan. There aren’t any specific rules to which flowers are to be used and in what way they are painted unto the kakejiku but, more often than not, the peony is a flower used as the center of the painting with other flowers surrounding it. This is so because originally, the kakejiku did come from China and its culture, the peony is considered to be the king of flowers.

There are also kakejiku paintings called “take-ni-suzume” which are paintings of bamboos and sparrows. The reason why these things are used as the subject of the kakejiku is that these things are considered to be a lucky symbol in Japan. In other words, having a kakejiku with this design supposedly offers or provides the home with the thing that it symbolizes. In this case, it is supposed to bring luck into the household.

Using the reasoning that what symbolisms can be found on the kakejiku is what is attracted to the home, the tiger or the dragon is also usual subjects for the kakejiku. These animals are used as subjects because they are seen to be the symbolism of great strength and power. In addition to attracting influence and power to the home with the use of these symbols, the tiger and dragon are also known to ward off evil spirits so having kakejiku that make use of these creatures as designs also ward off unwanted spirits from your home.

Considering the creativity that Japanese minds have, it comes as no surprise to find out that there are some kakejiku that have taken another direction because instead of showcasing paintings of daily life and art, some custom kakejiku showcase different kinds of anime. In a way, this can be viewed as the Japanese version of anime posters and to have it displayed as if it were a kakejiku adds a bit more exoticness to this already beautiful piece of decoration.

The Parts of Vintage and Customized Japanese Wall Scrolls and How to Take Care of Them

The vintage kakejiku in Japan are usually found only in museums nowadays but you are sure to find mimics of these antiques in certain areas in Japan. Mimic or not, the kakejiku is made up of the same parts every single time. It has the hanging bands which are called the kakeo and makio. It has the tsuyu which connects the hanging bands to the topmost portion of the Ichimonji. The Ichimonji is the part of the kakejiku that the painting or calligraphy is mounted onto and the silk edges around the Ichimonji is called the Nakamawashi. The Ichimonji is quite long so the location where the painting is placed has a specific name and that name is the Honshi. The honshi is found in the lower portion the Ichimonji because the kakejiku used to be appreciated from a kneeling position, hence the adjustment in the placing of the painting to be admired.

Whether you have an authentic kakejiku or a replica of a historical one, there are certain ways to help you maintain the best condition of the kakejiku. The first thing you should remember is not to leave it in a room that is always air-conditioned. The excessive coolness makes the painting more susceptible to moisture when there are temperature changes and this moisture hastens the deterioration of the scroll.

Sometimes, moisture cannot be avoided so it is also advisable to air dry your kakejiku at least twice a year. The key to successfully air drying kakejiku is to leave it under shade as you air dry it. This shields it from the heat of the sun that may damage the paper or ink on the scroll. It is also advisable to roll up your kakejiku once and awhile to relieve it from the constant pull that is caused by the roller end of the scroll.

In addition to these maintenance tips, you should also have a kiribako or wooden box made from Paulownia. This is the best material to use for storage of the kakejiku because this material is known to have no air leakage which means that there is less of a chance that unwanted air or moisture seeps into it as you store your precious kakejiku. This material also happens to have an ingredient that repels insects and pests which is also vital in preserving the kakejiku.

It can clearly be seen that the kakejiku is alive and well in the Japanese culture until this day. It might not be used as decoration for the tea ceremony that much anymore but it is now being used as posters for anime which gives the kakejiku another avenue to expand in. This item truly symbolizes the concept of Japanese decorations because of its simplicity and purpose and if you are a person that appreciates those things in the décor you place in your home, you should definitely look into the kakejiku that might interest you. It may be a signed work of art or not but regardless of this, it will still surely be a great addition to the home with all the things it offers.