Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What Do You Call... That Alcove Thingie in a Room?

Japanese-style rooms will at times feature a recessed alcove where flowers, hanging scrolls, bonsai, or other items are displayed.

The alcove is called a "tokonoma" 床の間. A common misunderstanding is that it's a sacred altar of some kind, but it's actually for displaying anything beautiful or nice. I was told by a Japanese friend that, traditionally, the tokonoma of the house usually incorporated the main support pillar of the house into one of its corners. In my apartment in Sendai, I had a small tokonoma in my tatami-floor bedroom complete with a wooden mock pillar.

If the room is used for entertaining, protocol also states that the most honored guest will be seated in front of the tokonoma or near it, with his back to it. He doesn't get to see it himself, but every time anyone else looks at him he'll be nicely framed by the tokonoma and whatever is displayed there.

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