By Toshio Odate
The kōshi-do form (a latticed door) has existed since ancient times in Japanese temples, and has long been used to divide the exterior and interior, and sometimes as a room divider.
In the last century, the use of these lattice-style panels in contemporary housing has flourished in many parts and places. Kōshi-do evolved in style and designs immensely, especially entrance doors. Because of its origin in history and its place in ancient temple entrances, today these rolling doors represent to some extent a family’s higher social status.
In the early 1950s I saw kōshi-do of all sizes with lattice and white shoji paper. However, my master said he’d also seen oilpaper used. Before glass became popular in Western society, oilpaper was commonly used for exterior windows and doors. Because of the predominant style of the Western house (which had a very short roof overhang) the exterior doors and windows were exposed to rain and snow. The oilpaper let light go through while repelling some water and moisture.
Oilpaper was rarely used in Japan. I had never seen it. Because the Japanese house overhang was commonly much deeper than its Western counterpart, doors and windows were more protected from rain and snow. Also, the Japanese use the same white shoji paper for many other sliding doors, dividers and partitions. Today, however, most Japanese entrance kōshi-do have glass instead of paper.
I believe it was in the late 1800s that common flat glass was introduced to Japan – so using glass in a Japanese house started not too long ago. The combination of the Japanese craftsman’s wisdom and ingenuity made it possible to apply glass to the traditional doors without changing or destroying the original form and structure.
I emigrated to America in 1958 and returned to Japan for my first visit in 1969. I then saw that Japan had undergone a great face-lift during those 11 years. A big concrete highway resembling a gigantic serpent meandered through the middle of Tokyo. I did not see much subtle regimentation in the change. It was not only in Tokyo but all the way into the deep countryside. It seemed like many things had changed for the better – but also that many things changed just for the sake of change.
My brother had a new house, and the entrance with kōshi-do looked very nice and neat with a dark wood grain. When I advanced closer to the entrance door, I noticed to my surprise that it was not wood; the lattice was made completely out of aluminum. My brother was watching my face.“Nobody is making or using the kōshi-do with wood any longer. It would be too expensive and it’s now much easier to clean,” he said with a big smile on his face, as if telling me I was way behind modern Japanese culture. Sadness filled my body, but I do not think my brother knew why.
Slide Show: More photos of Toshio Odate at work on the kōshi-do.
Plans: A 3D SketchUp model and some PDF drawings are available: Koshi-do_Drawing
To Buy: “Japanese Tools & Joinery,” a video by Jay Van Arsdale, is available in our store.
From the October 2013 issue, #206
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