The art form of Ranma is solely Japanese, dating back to the 17th century in Kyoto. Ranma is an elaborately carved wooden panel that is placed above a sliding door (障子), and beneath the ceiling in a traditional Japanese household. The woodwork can also be seen in some traditional Japanese buildings or place of worship. Although not as prominent today, you can still view ranma in many historical buildings. After its inception, ranma was used for both practical and decorative purposes. In a practical sense, ranma was used to separate rooms and provide airflow. In a decorative sense, it was used as a subtle way for a family to demonstrate its wealth.
One ranma panel consists of two transoms, the chokoku-ranma (彫刻欄間) and the sukashibori-ranma (透かし彫り欄間). The chokoku-ranma is an elaborately carved panel, often depicting Japanese animals or nature. The carving is three dimensional and usually very lifelike. When looking at a chokoku-ranma, the depictions seem to be coming out of the panel and into the room. The sukashibori-ranma is traditionally a two dimensional carving, also portraying Japanese nature and animals. These scenes are pierced into the wood, creating a simple, light appearance. Both of these panels can vary in ornateness depending on the craftsmanship required to create it. Many wealthy families used exquisite ranma to show their affluence, while middle class families chose a more simplistic design.
The process to make ranma is time consuming and labor intensive. The panel is made completely out of natural wood and it is carved by hand, often requiring over 100 different kinds of woodworking tools. On ranma panel is approximately 180 cm in length and has a lifespan of over 100 years if kept in a stable environment. In a traditional Japanese house you could see multiple ranma in one room, all with different scenery’s depicted, so you can understand how it became a symbol of financial prosperity.
The art of ranma is one that requires years of training and knowledge. Although not as commonly seen due to the change in housing tastes in Japan, ranma is still being created today. The process for preparing the wood alone requires time and skills. The artisan must dry the wood, sketch a design, carve out patterns and repeat the steps until the details are pronounced and polished. In Modern Japan, ranma artists are hard to find, as the demands for it has shifted over the years. People in Japan and abroad still purchase these fine woodworks as a household decoration, however the art form is but a shadow of what it was in its prime.