Tatami mats have been a part of Japanese homes for centuries. Once reserved for nobility, they became a standard part of traditional homes in the 17th century. While today tatami mats aren't quite as common, one man is taking tradition and transforming it into art. Kenze Yamada is a tatami artist who creates incredible images with his mats. Working out of a specialty store in Gifu prefecture, he's been commissioned by hotels and temples across Japan to bring his signature look to their floors.
One of his most popular creations has been a powerful dragon face created with tatami. Yamada has taken the layers of soft rush, or igusa straw, and cut pieces allowing the face of the dragon to emerge. This tatami was commissioned by a Buddhist temple and Yamada spent four months creating it. The result is stunning; a fierce and powerful dragon takes up the entire floor with its teeth changing color from white to gold, depending on how you look at it.
The number of pieces used to create the dragon also has special significance. Knowing that the tatami was destined for a Buddhist temple, Yamada used 108 pieces to create the dragon's face. In Japan, this number represents the number of earthly temptations one must overcome to reach nirvana. He also used an additional 49 pieces for the surroundings. That number is noteworthy because it's the number of days it takes for a deceased person's soul to be evaluated to see where it will go in the afterlife.
While Yamada's dragon is certainly impressive, it isn't his only innovative tatami. He's also created hexagonal tatami tiles called “infinite tatami.” These tiles allow tatami to easily be installed in spaces that aren't rectangular—the form tatami is regularly sold as. He's used these pieces to create a Marilyn Monroe portrait and a skull, among others.
Interestingly, tatami art began as just a hobby for Yamada. While his family owned a tatami shop, he was working in another field. Then, one day, he decided to create a design for fun. This hobby soon turned serious and now he's bringing this tradition into the 21st century with his unique vision.