I'd like to build shoji style windows, but they will be exposed to a lot of wet/snow all year round. I am looking for something that is more water tight, and more durable. I'm in zone 5, and this will be at the top of a hill with western exposure.
Has anyone tried painted glass? Is there a plastic that can be used over glass?
Once upon a time, I was looking for Tyvek that didn't have printing on it. I tried small squares cut between prints and it was hard to work with. There is lots of painted glass in use for shoji, but it looks like painted glass. Good quality shoji-like glass is available. Check out your local Japanese restaurants. If you don't find it and want it, let me know and I will inquire.
There is a shoji panel in the closet beside me that is made of common copier paper - you would have to see it to believe it. Poly-based plastics have too much stretch, but hard plastics can work. I have used 3/16 white polycarbonate for footlights in Kumamoto En and have been happy. Perhaps too thick for your application.
Why will it be so exposed? No overhangs or is it from strong winds? If it is high exposure, your wood will need special treatment anyway.
There is shoji paper with acrylic layer inside. Look here: http://www.eshoji.com/mm5/merchant.mvc?Screen=SFNT&Store_Code=E
Several years ago I built Shoji screens to enclose one side of my deck and give me privacy from my neighbors. For my first attempt I used a tyvek type product which lasted through 1 winter. I then replaced the tyvek with the fabric type shower curtains that can be bought at Ikea. They look great in the Shoji screens - perhaps a little heavier than rice paper but you still get the shadows etc from the other side and they have now lasted 3 years.
Could you post photos?
In the film and still photography industry- diffusion filters are used to control and modify light. The filters are designed to be placed between an electric light or the sun and the subject being photographed (they're not the little ones that go over a camera lens for example). These filters, manufactured by a few different companies, are available in sheets or in large rolls. I think in general they're made of polyester, and are not affected by water, rain, or wind. They're pretty strong. Some have woven fibers "spun" into the material. It might be worth looking into this material for outdoor screens. Some are even heat resistant because they're designed to be placed near very hot lights. They are made into hundreds of colors, densities, and weights. Plenty of them remind me of a material found in shoji screens. I'm not sure how well they'd perform long-term, but I'd guess that a number of them would not yellow in the weather.
Two manufacturers I'm familiar with, Rosco Filters http://www.rosco.com/us/filters/cinegel.asp (http://www.rosco.com/us/filters/cinegel.asp) and Lee Filters http://www.leefiltersusa.com/lighting/products/finder/ref:C46DD5D575BA37/ (http://www.leefiltersusa.com/lighting/products/finder/ref:C46DD5D575BA37/)offer swatch books to make choosing the right material easier. If you have a local professional photo store or professional lighting equipment store they might have one you could look at- or you could buy your own. Keep in mind that these websites cater to proffesionals who generally understand the technical language behind photo/film lighting.
Sometimes finding the right material does not always a straight (or familiar) path. Hope this helps!