Many people have written me saying how much they liked this article. You can read their responses at the end of this page. I added 3 more photos since the original posting.
This web page is for all you folks who have never been to Japan. You may have heard that Japanese people live in houses made of paper. As a matter of fact, they are! Well, at least the DOORS are! All situations described in this article have actually happened, and not just once.
Below is a photo of common Japanese sliding doors. They are called shoji.
Can you see the patchwork in 2 places to cover up some holes? Shoji
doors are about as effective in blocking sound from
room to room as a barbed wire fence in Nebraska is in blocking the
wind. Some light can pass though the paper.
Below is what they look like after an adult puts his or her arm or
elbow through them like I did the other night!
The shoji doors normally slide in 2 grooves side by side. Because
one door was open and therefore flush against the other with I hit it,
you can see in the photo below that I actually put my elbow through 2
of them at the
Here are photos of shoji with holes made by little people! A house
that has no holes in their shoji doors is a home with no children. It
doesn't take much to make a hole. The finger of a two year old will do
In the case of little holes, most people will often live with it for a time until the holes accumulate to the point of unsightliness. A tidy soul will at least try to patch them up with more paper. But in the worse case scenario like the kind I pulled the other night, action needs to be taken! Here is how to fix them.
First of all, gather the tools you will need for the job: A cutter knife, a brush, a spray bottle, a roll of shoji paper, and corn starch. The glue that holds the paper to the wood is made of corn starch and water. You put a few tablespoons of corn starch in a pot and stir it over a flame until it starts to get thick, but not too thick.
The paper has to be special paper made for the purpose. Can you guess what it's called? Shojigami! The "gami" in shojigami is the same gami in origami, meaning paper! "Ori" means to fold. Shojigami is rather porous and absorbs water easily. One man in Pittsburgh, Pa. USA who read this article referred to shojigami as "rice paper." It may be called that in America, but according to my Japanese friends, this paper is not made from rice.
Please do not write me an email asking where you can buy this kind of paper in your country. I do not know. I can only advise you to do a search on the Internet or to look it up in your Yellow Pages phone book. If you live in Japan, you can find it at your local Home Center.
The door needs to be taken out of its runner. As you can imagine, shoji doors are very light. But it can still be a struggle to take them out as older Japanese houses often tilt slightly and the door frame is not exactly square anymore.
After the door is taken out, I lay it on its side on the floor or a
table and apply water with a sponge to all the areas the paper is glued
to the wood. This makes it much easier to pull the old
broken paper off.
After the old broken paper has been removed, I apply the corn starch glue with a wide brush (see above photo) made for the purpose to all surfaces that the paper will touch. Then I carefully unroll the roll of shoji paper over the door. In the picture you can see the roll of shoji paper is still attached to the paper applied to the door.
After this I take a cutter knife and a straight edge and carefully
cut the excess paper off. Try not cut the paper where it is wet with glue or the paper may tear. You can wait till the glue is dry before you trim the paper, make your cuts with the cutter knife, and then use a sponge to carefully soak the paper you want to remove. I found this is the surest way to do a good job in trimming away the excess paper without tearing it. But if you are careful, have a sharp cutter knife, and don't press down too hard on the knife, you can trim the paper when wet without tearing it.
After the glue is dry and the edges are trimmed, take a spray bottle and spray a thin film
of water over the paper. When the water dries it will shrink
the paper and make it nice and tight like a drum! But don't use it as a
drum or you may have to have to repeat the above procedure all over again! I
have heard that in olden says when there were no plastic spray bottles,
professionals used to use their mouths to spray water on the paper.
Here's what the finished product should look like! Looks as good as a professional could do it! (Unless you can look closer at the poor edge cutting job I did.)
The photo on the right is another kind of paper door. It is called fusuma. Fusuma doors also slide but they have a little indented circle of metal where you put your fingers to slide them open and shut. Light cannot pass through the door as with shoji because the paper is laid in many layers (just like onions or Shrek), and sound is muffled a bit better than with shoji, but don't expect to hide any marital problems with your spouse if this is the door to your bedroom! Fusuma doors are much more durable and harder to break than shoji, but even they are no match for chair legs or table legs that happen to go through them when you move your furniture around. And if I hit one with the same force I used in breaking the shoji the other night, I'm sure I would have damaged it somewhat. No little kid can push his or her finger through the paper because of it's many layers, but a child with a tool like a pen or a pencil will have no trouble at all making little holes all over the door. (Our 2 year old grandson actually did this.) Fusuma doors are much harder to fix than shoji. Most people will pay a professional to do it for them. The door you see in the picture was just newly fixed with new paper by a pro after the 2 year old boy's hole poking learning experience.
Update 15 April 2004. My next challenge is to fix the fusuma door that a teenage boy rammed a hole in "by accident" (probably rough housing with his friend). . I've fixed fusuma before. It's much, much harder. You have to take the wood frame off the sides to do it properly.
I've done MANY more shoji doors since I first wrote this article and thing I'm getting a little better each time. When I learn something new, I update this page. So check again in a few months and you may find more tips! I guarantee that you will get pretty good after a while if you have lots of little kids running around in your home like I do. :-)
Copyright © 2003 by James Arendt
Please also check out the other articles on this site.
Here are comments from readers of this page:Yours is the only article Ask.com could find and it is great. I lived in Japan and am now decorating my western house with as much shoji as I can.