Transforming Location Part Seven: Set Design Research – Japan

As seen in part six, my character was a flirtatious but sinister Maiko who may be involved in a murder mystery and has a wardrobe predominantly in red.

To begin designing a set, I had to consider the following:

  • Time Period
  • Suitable setting
  • Colour scheme
  • Possible murder weapons
  • A suggestion of events

As Geisha and Maiko are an intricate part of Japanese history, I wanted to create a set fitting to the traditional aspects of Japan and have begun researching into key traditional design in Japanese architecture.

I have pursued this because key architectural features and furniture contribute to establishing a time period without being too “on the nose”.



An engawa is a small but long corridor made of hardwood that runs around the perimeter of a traditional Japanese house[i]. This acts as a walkway between the shoji and the amado when the amado is pulled shut during typhoons.



The term Shoji refers to the sliding panel constructed of wood and translucent paper that acts as a door or window[ii]. The translucent paper diffuses the natural light without eliminating the light all together.



Amado is the exterior panels that can be shut for security or to prevent damage to the shoji during rainy season[iii]. They are usually constructed from a thick wood and are placed around the perimeter of the property.



Fusuma act as room dividers and traditionally bare beautiful works of art. They are traditionally seen as vertical rectangular panels constructed of wood, cardboard or cloth. The fusuma allows the housing tenant to easily divide a room, transforming a living room into two bedrooms come nightfall[iv].



Ramna is an ornate piece of carving that is situated above shoji to allow airflow and natural light in[v].  They are usually situated between rooms or above the shoji.



Tatami floors or mats are a traditional feature of Japanese housing design as this allows a comfort when sitting or sleeping. Traditionally these mats were reserved for nobles, and later introduced to ordinary people following the 17th Century[vi]. There are three parts to a tatami mat: The reed or rush covering, the straw core and the woven fabric around the outer edges.



A tokonoma translates to alcove, and this is where important works of art, scrolls or flowers are displayed. An important guest would traditionally sit nearest this, with their back to it. This is because the Japanese are tremendously modest about their possessions and would not like to subliminally brag about their possessions to their guests.

I found it fascinating to research into traditional Japanese architecture as I found out so much more about their culture than I originally anticipated. I was amazed to find out just how modestly the Japanese lived: the houses were designed around fitting a large quantity of people into a small space (hence the requirement of fusuma). The designs are usually very sparse of furniture, and the furniture they did have was designed to be multi-functional and easily stored away.

However, I did want to investigate into rooms used to traditionally entertain guests as this would be a suitable surrounding for my character. I discovered that tea rooms were where Geisha’s and those in training would host parties for their guests and I was fortunate to discover that traditional tea rooms still feature key traditional Japanese design elements such as the tatami mats and tokonoma.

tea room plans

Tea Room Floor Plans

I came across a number of traditional tea room floor plans[vii], and have selected one I believe will suit the natural interior of my chosen location. I hope that I can adjust these plans to accommodate a tokonoma which is one of the most important features to a traditional tea room, and a place to store cushions so I can disguise the window to appear like a long stretch of shoji.

To convey my ideas,  mood boards were constructed:

Set desin tea room

Set design final moodboard

What these mood boards imply is that the location will be transformed into a tea room with evidence of a tea making ceremony taking a dark turn. The potential weapons could be the cast iron pots or a candlestick (if I wanted to keep the theme in line with my original inspiration: Cluedo). The colour scheme is a neutral cream and green to contrast with my characters wardrobe (red) with elements in red and black. This is to subtly project my characters personality into the set. The black would be used sparingly, mainly to accent furniture and design elements so these changes will not go unnoticed.

My next step is to create a design plan that will inform the viewer of how I plan to transform the location, taking into consideration the locations unmovable features.












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