I first heard about “okoshi-ezu” when I visited an elderly book-seller close to the Heian Shrine in Kyoto. That was over three years ago now when I was making a large-scale installation, “Shift”, based on an 18th century folding paper teahouse. The book-seller told me that once he had seen a series of volumes which contained folding models of teahouses – something between origami and popup models and difficult to find. Dating from the Edo Period, they were used as architectural designs. Since then I have been searching to find these forms of temporary refuge in miniature – a re-enactment on a different scale of the folding teahouses written about in previous postings – this provided another focus for my recent visit to Japan.
It took a long time – emails back and forth from Hitoko Suzuki (the translator of W. G. Sebald’s novels into Japanese), the V&A’s Far Eastern Department, Hiroko Oshima at Northumbria University, Dr. Masamistu Inaba at Tokyo University of Fine Art, staff at both Tokyo National Museum and Kyoto Archives. I am grateful for all their help and advice which eventually enabled me to see and photograph both original 19th century okoshi-ezu and more recent replicas of these originals. They were folded and unfolded by staff of the special stores of Tokyo National Museum as I photographed and videoed the process. In Kyoto I spent several days exploring the folding techniques of the replicas and later with special permission was able to visit several of the actual teahouses. Tanizaki’s premise, that “there is no beauty without shadows”, was never far from my mind as I entered these tiny interiors.
Teahouse interiors, Kyoto, 2008
Honnen-in Temple, Kyoto – Place of Junichiro Tanizaki’s grave, 2008