A tokonoma (床の間, toko-no-ma[1]), or simply toko (),[2][3] 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.

A tokonoma with a hanging scroll and ikebana flower arrangement
Detailed view of a tokonoma and aspects of a Japanese room
View from the side of a tokonoma
Tokonoma at Tenryū-ji


Tokonoma first appeared in the late Muromachi period (14th–16th century). In the shoin style architecture of this period, it was called oshiita (押板)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.[4]


The items typically displayed in a tokonoma are calligraphic or pictorial scrolls and an ikebana flower arrangement. Bonsai and okimono 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 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.[citation needed]

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 was influenced by Japanese architecture. He translated the meaning of the tokonoma into its western counterpart: the fireplace.[5] This gesture became more of a ceremonial core in his architecture.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Kenkyusha's New Japanese-English Dictionary, Kenkyusha Limited, ISBN 4-7674-2015-6
  2. ^ Kōjien Japanese dictionary, entry for tokonoma.
  3. ^ Genshoku Chadō Daijiten Japanese encyclopedia of Chanoyu. Iguchi Kaisen, et. al., supv. eds. (Kyoto: Tankosha, 1986 10th ed.) entry for Toko.
  4. ^ Genshoku Chadō Daijiten Japanese encyclopedia of Chanoyu, entry for Toko
  5. ^ Nute, Kevin (1993). Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan. London: Chapman & Hall. p. 61

Further readingEdit

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

External linksEdit