It’s Lightweight! (an essential, though frequently overlooked, quality in antique Japanese tansu)

This weekend Ruben and I were helping some friends move furniture. It seemed like such a simple task – moving a bedroom set from one room to the next. We move Japanese furniture all the time, so we volunteered happily, thinking the job would be quick and effortless. After all, the two of us often lift and carry large kitchen, clothing or merchant tansu from room to room in our warehouse and assist in the offloading of our containers when they arrive from Japan, loaded with beauties for our customers. How bad could it be?

Mizuya Kitchen Tansu

Well, it turns out, VERY bad. Western furniture is HEAVY! Among the four of us, the result was a total of one strained shoulder, a twisted knee, a woeful depletion of energy and sore backs overall. Two hours later, still in a sweat while sipping iced tea, I told our friends, “You must get some antique Japanese furniture!”

Besides its obvious beauty, there is nothing like a Japanese tansu for mobility and ease of use. First, all large antique tansu, including kaidan-dansu or step tansu, are modular. They come in separate pieces, two, three, sometimes even four easily manageable sections. This was originally established in case of fire. Early Japanese homes were often fire-prone, so the owners needed to be able get their belongings out quickly and easily. Second, antique Japanese tansu almost always have a percentage of paulownia (aka, kiri), a finely grained, warp-resistant and lightweight wood. Some chests are even 100% kiri. Others might have cedar, cypress, persimmon or keyaki (aka, zelcova) accents. All, are relatively light in comparison to most other furniture, another reason there is nothing quite so wonderful as antique Japanese tansu in the modern home!

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The Japanese Kitchen

A kamado in a traditional Japanese kitchen

Jcollector offers a variety of antique and traditional Japanese kitchen furnishings, fixtures and décor.  These range from handsome kitchen chest tansu to low dining tables of simple wood or fine lacquer, hibachi, furogama, kotatsu and all manner of utilitarian as well as decorative items.

The Imperial Palace during the Heian Age (794-1185) used four rooms for accomplishing kitchen-related tasks. These were the oni no ma (the tasting and checking for poison room), daibandokoro (for placing prepared food on a diner’s serving tray/table), asagarei no ma (breakfast room) and oidono (the actual cooking room).  Sometimes, all four rooms were joined together as one building, and usually separated from the Imperial Palace as a safeguard against fire and unpleasant odors affecting the Imperial family.

Later, during the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the four rooms of the kitchen were united inside the main building and under one roof.  This architectural composition is called “Shoinzukuri.”  In early designs, the kitchen was connected to the other rooms via a corridor to the main building. Later, it combined fire and water (the stove or kamado and irori, a well and a drain) into the kitchen space in the main building (omoya).

Kitchen Tansu - Mizuya Dansu

Until the Edo period, the term daidokoro referred to the pantry and servant dining area.  It began to be used to describe the entire kitchen area during this period.  The kitchen became an important room, especially because it was the one place in the house with running water.  Also, more burners were added to the stove/kamado, and it was raised to eliminate the need to squat while cooking.

A well-to-do kitchen would feature the kitchen tansu, a dramatic and practical chest offering a variety of compartments and drawers for storage.  Its entrance would be draped by a colorful noren, a Japanese fabric divider traditionally hung between rooms, on walls, in doorways or windows.  Serving as a heater was the kotatsu, a low, wooden table frame, covered by a futon or heavy blanket to catch the warmth of the coals beneath, and upon which sat a table top.

The hibachi or fire bowl, was also introduced at this time.   Besides the larger, wood-framed Kyoto and Toyko styles, many smaller hibachi are available on Jcollector.  These were traditionally used as personal handwarmers for residents and guests, but today make dramatic jardinières and display items in the Western home.

Japanese Hibachi

You can find many examples of kitchen furnishings and wares available at both Jcollector and Jtansu.  All have stood the test of time and today add a charming sense of Japanese style, combining beauty and utility, to environments of every kind worldwide.

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New Japanese Furniture Shipment at Jcollector/Jtansu

Our latest shipment of fine Japanese tansu has arrived!

Ruben spent a week in May selecting a wide variety of exceptional pieces, including kitchen tansu, merchant tansu and the ever-popular getabako shoe tansu (a best seller!).  Check out this great two-tone mizuya with keyaki wood accents and roomy getabako, an eye-catching must for getting that pile of shoes off the floor and tucked away.

Mizuya is a term used for a storage cupboard traditionally found in the Japanese kitchen.  Its more literal definition is “water-area cabinet.”  This type of tansu comes in a range of sizes, configurations and sophistication.  Some of our customers prefer a simpler, more rustic style crafted using elements like wire mesh and bamboo accents.  Others favor a more elegant design fashioned with highly desirable and richly grained keyaki or zelkova wood and iron-studded paneling.

For an overview of different types of kitchen tansu, click here.

Our favorite reference books on Japanese tansu include Kazuko Koisumi’s Traditional Japanese Furniture and Rosy Clarke’s Japanese Antique Furniture.

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