A , or simply ''toko'' (), is a recessed space in a Japanese-style reception room, in which items for artistic appreciation are displayed. In English, a ''tokonoma'' could be called an alcove.


''Tokonoma'' first appeared in the late Muromachi period (14th–16th century). In the ''
shoin is a type of audience hall in Japanese architecture has been typified by wooden structures, elevated slightly off the ground, with tiled or thatched roofs. Sliding doors (''fusuma In Japanese architecture has been typified by w ...

'' style architecture of this period, it was called ''oshiita'' ()and basically was a wall space where scrolls would be hung, with a raised dais in front on which would be set items such as an incense burner, vase for flowers, and candle holder.


The items typically displayed in a ''tokonoma'' are calligraphic or pictorial
scrolls A scroll (from the Old French ''escroe'' or ''escroue''), also known as a roll, is a roll of papyrus Papyrus ( ) is a material similar to thick that was used in ancient times as a . It was made from the of the papyrus plant, ', a wetl ...
and an
ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement. It is also known as . The tradition dates back to Heian period, when floral offerings were made at altars. Later, flower arrangements were instead used to adorn the (alcove) of a traditional Japanes ...
flower arrangement.
Bonsai Bonsai ( ja, 盆栽, , tray planting, ) is a Japanese version of the original traditional Chinese art ' or ''penzai''. Unlike ''penjing'', which utilizes traditional techniques to produce entire natural sceneries in small pots that mimic the ...

and ''
'' are also common—although traditionally, bonsai were not considered worthy for a place of such respect. The ''tokonoma'' and its contents are essential elements of traditional Japanese interior decoration. The word 'toko' literally means "floor" or "bed"; 'ma' means "space" or "room". When seating guests in a Japanese-style room, the correct
etiquette Etiquette ( and ; ) is the set of conventional rules of personal behaviour in polite society, usually in the form of an ethical code Ethical codes are adopted by organizations to assist members in understanding the difference between right ...
is to seat the most important guest with his or her back to the ''tokonoma''. This is because of modesty—the host should not be seen to show off the contents of the ''tokonoma'' to the guest, and thus it is necessary not to point the guest towards the ''tokonoma''. Stepping within it is strictly forbidden, except to change the display, when a strict etiquette must be followed. The pillar on one side of the ''tokonoma'', called ''toko-bashira'' (床柱), is usually made of wood, specially prepared for the purpose. It can range from a seemingly raw trunk with bark still attached, to a square piece of heart wood with very straight grain. The choice of ''toko-bashira'' determines the level of formality for the ''tokonoma''. American architect
Frank Lloyd Wright Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) was an American architect, designer, writer, and educator. He designed more than 1,000 structures over a creative period of 70 years. Wright believed in designing in harmony with humanity and t ...

Frank Lloyd Wright
was influenced by Japanese architecture. He translated the meaning of the ''tokonoma'' into its western counterpart: the
fireplace A fireplace or hearth A hearth is the place in a where a is or was traditionally kept for home heating and for , usually constituted by at least a horizontal hearthstone and often enclosed to varying degrees by any combination of , , , ...

.Nute, Kevin (1993). ''Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan''. London: Chapman & Hall. p. 61 This gesture became more of a ceremonial core in his architecture.

See also

Fireplace mantel The fireplace mantel or mantelpiece, also known as a chimneypiece, originated in medieval times as a hood that projected over a fire grate to catch the smoke. The term has evolved to include the decorative framework around the fireplace, and c ...
Higashiyama culture The Higashiyama culture (東山文化 ''Higashiyama bunka'') is a segment of Japanese culture The culture of Japan has changed greatly over the millennia, from the country's prehistoric Jōmon period, Jōmon Period, to its contemporary m ...
in the Muromachi period


Further reading

* "Theorizing about the Origins of the Tokonoma," in ''Chanoyu Quarterly'' no. 86 (1997).

External links

* {{Authority control Japanese architectural features Japanese home Japanese words and phrases