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Home - Living in Japan - Furniture
Tansu

Japan has a long history of woodworking in both architecture and furniture making. Among the best known types of Japanese furniture is the tansu.

What are Tansu?

Tansu are wooden boxes, chests and cabinets whose tradition originated from the Edo Period. They are composed of an often asymmetrical combination of sliding doors and pull-out drawers, and are usually fitted with iron handles and hardware.

Tansu are generally minimal and practical, mirroring the principles of Japanese interior decor. Different pieces were designed for the storage and display of various items. Because of the transitional nature of the home, many pieces were modular, allowing for ease of movement.

The History of Tansu

Peace and stability prevailed during much of the Edo Period (1600-1868). The arts were flourishing and the standards of living continually rising.

Quality furniture had previously been something only the wealthiest of people could afford. However, during the Edo Period, well off merchants, like other nouveau riche throughout history, tried to mimic the art and architecture of the established ruling class.

It is through this architecture that the inspiration for tansu came. One could now have the status symbol of quality craftsmanship and style in a much more compact form than the palatial estates of established wealth and power.

Contemporary mizuya dansu

Tansu Style

Initially very simple in style, tansu design diversified with the furniture and fashion industry. It became increasingly common to rotate furniture and decorations to match the season. The unused furniture would be stored in a kura (store house).

Other tansu served as day to day furniture for storing kitchen items (mizuya dansu), merchant's log books (choba dansu), and clothing (kimono dansu).

Kaidan dansu (step chests) are one of the better know tansu types today. When combined, these modular pieces formed steps to a loft area (which could quickly be transformed into unassuming chests when the tax man arrived).

Tansu today take the form of both antiques that are highly prized originals from the period, as well as contemporary reproductions, which often feature the same quality craftsmanship.

Contemporary kaidan dansu

Photo courtesy of greentea design.

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