Artisan touts byobu screens in own museum

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Byobu folding screens in various sizes are on display at the Byobu Museum in Sumida Ward, Tokyo.

Just a stone’s throw from Tokyo Skytree, the Byobu Museum in Sumida Ward, Tokyo, welcomes visitors with a number of byobu folding screens of various sizes.

Curator Kyoichi Kataoka, who is also the second generation owner of the Kataoka Byobu Store Co., ushered me into the museum.

Byobu have been used as room partitions and barriers to block the wind since ancient times. Additionally, jinya byobu were installed at the camps of military commanders, while hanami byobu were used for banquets. Today, byobu are used for seasonal festivals, and golden screens are a must have item for wedding ceremonies.

The number of manufacturers has fallen due to a shortage of successors, and Kataoka Byobu has become the only manufacturer specializing in the screens in Tokyo. Kataoka, 66, had begun to worry about the situation when he was advised by a foreign friend to try to make byobu more well known.

In 1991, Kataoka installed an exhibition space on the occasion of the shop’s renovation, and in May 1996, he opened a full-blown museum. About 100 items are on display, with some antique and others being Kataoka’s own creative works. For example, he attached a kimono and a scarf that had been siting in a closet to a screen to make an eye-catching byobu.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A byobu folding screen made from an obi sash

“It’s always nice to have memories in a tangible form,” Kataoka said. “I want to make everything into byobu.”

Specialized tools such as cutting knives and brushes for applying glue and water are also on display, along with a simple explanation of the byobu production process.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Cutting knives and brushes are also on display.

The museum’s highlight is a large folding screen depicting the characters of the popular manga “Ashita no Joe” (Tomorrow’s Joe) — protagonist Joe Yabuki and his rival Toru Rikiishi — on a silver background. Sumida Ward is said to be the place where Tetsuya Chiba, who drew the manga, spent his youth. Chiba autographed the screen, which was made to commemorate the 2020 Tokyo Olympics boxing event held at nearby Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
An “Ashita no Joe” byobu folding screen autographed by mangaka Tetsuya Chiba

“A lot of people think byobu are old-fashioned, but they’re not,” Kataoka said. “I want more people to know their charm.”

Byobu Museum

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The museum has a popular workshop where visitors can make a byobu while learning about the history of the artform. The museum is a 2-minute walk from Tokyo Skytree Station on the Tobu Isesaki Line.

Address: 1-31-6 Mukojima, Sumida Ward, Tokyo

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday through Friday, except national holidays. (Reservations required on Saturdays and Sundays.)