Interior decoration in Japan was much influenced by Chinese ideas, especially between the 8th and 12th centuries, but it developed along lighter, more austere and elegant lines. It has altered little since medieval days. The most important differences in modern design are that the matting has been extended to cover the whole of the wooden floor, and sliding doors have replaced single-leaf screens or curtains. Two sides of a Japanese house frequently have no permanent walls, and interior partitions are of paper on a wood frame which admits a soft, diffused light. These partitions are usually moveable, allowing the interior to be rearranged.
decoration hardly exists, and the walls provide a neutral background for the rest. Since the Japanese invariably cover their floors with rice-straw mats and sit on them instead of on chairs, tables are low and are also used as an armrest. Tiers of shelves are common, usually covered with lacquer, and painted decoratively. They occur in a variety of forms, and the asymmetrical quality of Japanese art may be seen in these pieces of furniture, the number and position of the shelves differing on either side, and set at different heights.
In contrast to Western practice, the Japanese do not decorate their rooms with several works of art, but have a special place in the room, a focal point, at which one work of quality is displayed, and this is changed from time to time. Both the Chinese and the Japanese venerate the work of former times, and the Japanese possess the oldest art collection in the world, in the Shōsō Repository at Nara, which was formed in the 9th century CE.