Japanese Vintage Furniture | by Scaramanga

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We are excited to share our new collection of Japanese Vintage Furniture with you! This range of vintage furniture is sourced from Japan and like all our furniture and interiors it’s old, original and authentic, not reproduced or made to look old. Each of these one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture has a bit of history to tell, we’ve listened and can’t wait to share what we know.

Tansu Japanese Vintage and Antique Furniture

Tansu refers to traditional Japanese furniture such as wooden cabinets, boxes and chests of drawers. The origins of Tansu furniture can be found in Japan’s Edo period, 1615-1867. Japanese cabinetry from this period was made by master craftspeople who took great pride in their work and you can see the attention to detail as well as the awe-inspiring construction to have lasted throughout the years. The gifted creators of this art were deservedly esteemed by Japanese society, leaving a rich and influential legacy.

early Japanese tansu
image: Heineken, Ty & Kiyoko
 – Tansu: Traditional Japanese Cabinetry

 

The tansu and its evolution over time were heavily influenced by society, geography, wealth and historical eras. The work of tansu makers is largely overshadowed by the people they made the chests and cupboards for such as wealthy merchant’s, samurais, regional leaders and noblemen. The image from a wooden block print shows a tansu with cupboard doors and two drawers being carried by porters. After the turn of c.20th, they became popular in Japanese homes as they were adapted for different uses. Historically they were not used as a stationary storage chest, but for travelling.

Japanese vintage furniture Tansu
images: Heineken, Ty & Kiyoko
 – Tansu: Traditional Japanese Cabinetry

 

After 1850 (the Meiji era 1868-1910), tansu was made for different uses and purposes such as for storing kimonos and samurai swords, they were often used as mobile storage whilst travelling, just like old travel trunks from Britain would have been. From trunks with wheels to shipboard safes, from kitchen cupboards to clothing chests, tansu were the receptacles of an age of economic expansion. Japanese Cabinetry chronicles not only the physical characteristics and details of tansu, but also the historical eras and societal factors that influenced the craft.

Japanese antique furniture | Tansu

Japanese Tansu styles and uses:
Isho tansu was made for storing clothes such as kimonos.

Ryobiraki Kasane-dansu: A style of the chest that was used for storing of women’s clothing. At a time when local noblemen in the late 1700s demanded modesty, this simple style was popular with the merchant class women. Typically Ryobiraki Kasane-dansu would have an upper double door, a two-part tansu. Most notably they were made from a plain simple wood that was unlacquered to make them look modest. The tansu below is in three parts and made from Kiri (paulownia) a very light-weight softwood.

Ryobiraki Kasane Dansu Tansu

 

Choba tansu were small chests with a single opening and various compartments. Often made from a high-quality hardwood and highly decorated. Kusuri were apothecary chests with rows and rows of small drawers and compartments for medicines. Katana dansu were used for keeping samurai swords and were used by sword makers.

Large chests with steps, in modular form, were also made as architectural pieces with drawers, sliding doors to be used to access upper levels of buildings.

Like early kitchen cupboards across Europe, kitchen tansu was made at the turn of the c. 20th and were functional kitchen units that were made to fit into kitchen alcoves.

antique Funa Dansu - ship's safe
image: Heineken, Ty & Kiyoko
 – Tansu: Traditional Japanese Cabinetry

Funa dansu were shipping chests and safes and were used for storing money, maps, other documents and nautical instruments. The chest would be unloaded at ports and ceremoniously placed where traders could see it. So size and appearance were important when the captain or owner was trying to portray wealth and affluence during negotiations.

Very small boxes were made to be used as vanity boxes, sewing boxes and writing boxes. Each with delightful artistic value and great attention to detail.

small laquered tansu

Regional variations included delicately lacquered tansus with floral and patterned decorations from Kyoto. Merchant’s chests / choba dansu from Sakai came styled in different woods to create chests with intricate compartments. A zenibako is a wooden money box, often with a secret compartment, secured with a padlock.

Wooden finishes:
Tansu finishes can be either dry or lacquered. A chalk powder or clay was rubbed into the softwood surface then burnished with an Eulalia root whisk for a dry finish. Lacquer gives a smooth sealed look and comes across much more polisehd and refined.. Colours could be applied to the wood before the lacquer is applied.

small Kuri tansu

Tansu hardware: Unique, Handmade & Original
Hardware used to adorn tansu was mainly functional while seeming decorative to the untrained eye. While chest joints in much of Europe often used strong dovetails. chest-makers used simple butted joints so forged iron was used to strengthen early tansu that was often used as travelling trunks. The technology used to press iron into plates did not arrive from Great Britain until the late c.19th.

A quick guide to styles and uses:

Herikanagu – edge hardware that lines the corners and edges of a tansu.

Obikanagu: – sash hardware that extends the front of a tansu – across the front of a door, the top, or the face of a door or drawer.

Sumikanagu – found on drawer faces or drawer-corners and often match obikangu hardware.

Mochiokuri – carrying handles, usually a loop appearing on top or sides.

Sao-toshi – usually a set of loops used with a pole that was slid through them for carrying a pair of porters.

Meita – a lock jamb plate.

Sashikomijo – simple sliding-door lock

Bo – vertical locking bar

Hikite – a drawer pull

Zagane – a flange or escutcheon surrounding the contact point of a drawer pull.

Toshi-zagane: Backplate for a drawer pull

Choban – door hinge

Omotejo – single-action lock that uses a spring for activation.

Urajo – an advanced double-action lock mechanism from the 1860s (introduced from outside Japan).

So there is a brief history of our new and exciting collection of vintage Japanese furniture. Each piece, with its simply Zen design, will add style and elegance to any room in your home. Each wooden chest, cupboard or cabinet is as much stylish as it functional, a worthy investment to make! See our range of vintage furniture for the home today.

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