Traditional Crafts of TokyoTraditional Crafts of Tokyo 東京の伝統工芸品

Edo Sudare

(Slatted Blinds)

Edo Sudare Photo

Neither closed nor opened: this is a real comfort.
A Sudare (slatted blinds), hung from a house frontage or outdoors, is used as a sunshade, a blind, or can even serve as a divider within a room. It has a long history, with Sudare being mentioned in the Man’yōshū, the oldest anthology of Japanese Waka poetry, compiled in the 7th through 8th centuries. Sudare became popular among the general public after the 17th century. While KyoSudare (Kyoto-style) hasluxuriant designs for court nobles culture, Edo Sudare (Edo-style blinds) caters for everyday living and is characterized by convenience and simple designs. Screens are tailor-made according to living environment and lifestyle and materials, including bamboo, reed, or bush clover, selected to suit specific applications. Bamboo is seasoned for three years to attain the ideal color and sufficient hardness to enable cutting, and braiding methods are chosen accordingly. Finished Sudare breathes well and helps to create a comfortable space when the aroma of the natural material wafts on a pleasant breeze. Different from Yoshizu (slatted blinds), which is designed to be leaned against a house frontage, Sudare places importance on merging into daily life as an interior fitting and features a kind of taste – “not only looking but also feeling cool” – in addition to its practical application. Tapestries and place mats are being manufactured utilizing techniques accumulated in response to the changing needs of the times.
Main Areas of Manufacture Taito Ward, Minato Ward
Designation/ Certification Date August 1st, 1983 (Tokyo Certification)
Traditionally Used Raw Materials Bamboo, reeds, Japanese clover, bulrushes, cottonweed, Iyo Bamboo

Traditional Technologies and Techniques

  1. When making Edo Sudare (slatted blinds) from bamboo, the staves are split into slats along the grain using a chopper. After cutting the bamboo into big pieces, its sheath is stripped. A small knife is then used to section the slats into small pieces and shave them down.
  2. When making Edo Sudare (slatted blinds) from reeds, Japanese clover, bulrushes, cudweed or Iyo Bamboo, thought is given to the product to be produced. Work is then carried out in matching up the materials based on their thickness, whether they come from the tip, the center or the base of the plants being used.
  3. The weaving of materials into blinds is conducted after any individual material traits have been corrected. In order that balance is maintained between the left and right of a blind, materials from the tip and root of the plants (materials of different thicknesses) are alternated and woven in. The methods of weaving used include a single strand weave, a double strand weave, a parallel weave, a tortoiseshell weave and pattern weaves, etc.

History and Characteristics

The history of “sudare” (slatted blinds) is very long, there even being a reference in Japan’s oldest collection of poetry called the “Man'yōshū”(literally the "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves"). This is a collection of prose compiled sometime after the year 759.

One literary reference to "sudare" in the "Man'yōshū" was penned by the Princess Nukata as she pined for the Emperor Ōmi (the Emperor Tenji): "Kimi matsu to, wa ga koioreba, wa ga yado no sudare ugokashi aki no kaze fuku" ("While I wait in longing for you my lord, there comes the autumn wind that stirs the bamboo blinds").

In a well-known episode in Japanese history, Sei Shonagon, a court lady in the service of the Empress Teishi (in around the year 1000), wrote in her pillow book (her private diary) about reacting to a poem originally written by the Tang poet Bai Juyi. This poem was in the Chinese "lushi" style (a composition of eight lines of seven characters each) and it referred to "raising the 'sudare' to see the snowy peak of Xiang Lu Feng mountain." When asked about this poem by the Empress Teishi, Sei Shonagon immediately raised the "sudare" in the imperial palace so that the empress could view the snow-covered garden outside.

High-quality "sudare" bordered with cloth is known as "misu". Since the Heian Period (approx. 794 -1185), it has been used as both a room divider and sun screen in palaces, aristocratic mansions, as well as in shrines and temples.

Edo Sudare also made regular appearances in ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) such as "Coolness in Hyakka-en," "A Beauty behind a Sudare" and "Fuzoku Sandan Girls," these being the works of Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), one of the most famous artists of the golden age of woodblock prints.

What is distinctive about Edo Sudare is that materials such as bamboo, Japanese clover, cottonweed, bulrushes and reeds, can be experienced in their natural state. The most popular material for making "sudare" is bamboo, with lustrous, mature and hardened staves being harvested between the autumn and spring equinox. Unlike timber, the processing of bamboo does not involve the use of a cutting blade. Rather, because bamboo is thinned down along the grain, and undergoes a whittling process, it is rather difficult to have all the bamboo material a particular width or length.

Furthermore, depending on application, the back of bamboo may be shaved down in a triangular shape or shaped into a barrel. There are also particular cuts of bamboo for specific purposes.

Thus, even while on first glance it might appear that splitting bamboo is a simple exercise, the handling of it requires many years of experience that are based on understanding bamboo’s qualities and appreciating complex techniques.

Contact Details

Manufacturing Area Cooperative Name Tokyo Slatted Blinds Industry Association
Address c/o Tanaka Seirensho Co., Ltd,1- 18-6 Senzoku, Taito Ward, Tokyo 111-0031
TEL 03-3873-4653