Photo/IllutrationGolden “byobu” folding screens by artists of the Kano school are seen on the left-hand side in the exhibition room, facing the byobu created by the Hasegawa school. (Sachi Matsumoto)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

HAKONE, Kanagawa Prefecture--The golden folding screens that line the walls of the dimly lit exhibition room at the Okada Museum of Art here make for a truly breathtaking sight.

About 30 “byobu” folding screens covered in gold leaf from the Momoyama Period (roughly 1568-1600) to the early Showa Era (1926-1989) are on show at the museum in a special exhibition.

The event, “Japan: Country of Gold Screens of the Kano, Hasegawa, Rinpa and Other Schools,” marks the first time the museum has organized an exhibition solely devoted to its personal collection of gold leaf screens, officials said.

Just taking in the view may be enough to satisfy some visitors, but those who want to dig deeper will find ample information on the differences in style between schools that painted the screens, the wide variety of techniques they utilized, and how they changed over the ages.

Originating in China, folding screens were brought to Japan through the Korean Peninsula during the Asuka Period (from the late sixth century to early seventh century). They then evolved to take on their own unique characteristics particular to Japan.

Gold leaf folding screens were introduced around the 14th century. They were often presented to foreign heads of state and other influential figures as diplomatic gifts.

The event, held in four exhibition rooms on the third floor, is divided into five sections.

The real stunner is the first exhibition room, which features three golden byobu by Kano school artists set in a row on the left-hand side and two from the Hasegawa school on the right.

The Kano school screens are characterized by their dynamic compositions, with billowing gold clouds that spread across entire screens, and each featuring a species of bird. The scrupulously painted Hasegawa school screens carry an aura of sensitivity and grace.

The exhibition also contains golden screens by the Rinpa and Maruyama-Shijo schools and works created between the Meiji (1868-1912) and the early Showa eras in the final section. The more recent pieces show traces of how painters struggled to bring innovation to Japanese-style paintings.

“In addition to the diversity of expression brought by various materials and techniques, the byobu look completely different depending on the angle from which they're viewed,” chief curator Yuko Kobayashi said. “We hope visitors will come to experience it in the exhibition rooms.”

“Maki-e” (gold- and silver-sprinkled lacquer decorations) and other traditional crafts and decorations for writing paper are displayed in the fourth floor exhibition room in association with the exhibition.

The exhibition is open daily until Sept. 29. Admission is 2,800 yen ($26) for adults.