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Japan's abandoned washitsu's 


The Japanese washitsu - an iconic and delicately organized traditional room where composition and space is meticulously considered.


The conventional elements of the washitsu comprise of tatami mats, fusuma (sliding doors), shoji screens (a divider made up of translucent paper over a wooden frame) and tokonoma (small recessive areas built into a wall adorned with a hanging scroll).   Its furnishings usually include a low table with a few zabutons (floor level Japanese seats) along with ornaments on shelves and family heirlooms. 

These sparse yet warm, sterile yet lived in spaces visually embody the cultural identity of Japan and encompass the principles of the Japanese aesthetic.  But in contrast, it is interesting to view these carefully considered spaces in a state of abandonment and disarray.  Unpolished and unmaintained, these now eerily vacant rooms allow one to connect with Japans modern, and sometimes not so modern past on a non sanitized platform. 

​Mostly abandoned since the 90's for any number of reasons (perhaps due to financial unviability or a reduction in population levels within a rural town etc etc) these forgotten rooms can be found in country houses, hotels and town dwellings.  Hidden away in silence for many years, their sliding fusuma doors have been opened to reveal an abundance of retro Japanese treasures including photographs, clothes, old televisions, cassette decks, radios, calendars, VHS players and videotapes (to name a few).   

By stepping out of the gleaming neon lights that illuminate Japan's many thriving metropolises and into the shadows, the observer can partake in an opportunity to connect with this fascinating culture on a more intimate level.   Still containing emotional traces long after their abandonment, the dishevelled washitsu becomes a space where one can contemplate Japans hidden urban journey from permanence to disposability, composition to decomposition and construction to deconstruction.  Along with this, the photography of these spaces plays an important part in the documentation and preservation of the traditional washitsu, before the process of urban evolution erodes it forever.

And on another less analytical level, checking out these haunted spaces is spooky fun…especially if you love Japanese horror movies and ghost stories!!

Shane Thoms, August 2016

​*These images along with many more will be published in a forthcoming hard cover book titled 'Haikyo: The Modern Ruins of Japan'for release in 2017.

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