CHAPTER I

Introduction

Historically, furniture has never been a focal point of the Japanese decorative arts. In contrast to the West, houses in Japan up to the Meiji era (1868-1912) utilised little furniture. They were designed in a module system based on the standardised tatami mat, with the size of rooms indicated by the number of tatami ,eight-tatami-room, for instance. The painting in Figure 1 shows the interior of a traditional house of the Edo period (1603-1867): there were no chairs because people sat on the tatami floors; there were no beds because they slept on futon mattresses placed directly on the floor, and these mattresses were put away in built-in cabinets when not in use. These traditions survive widely to this day. A few items of furniture were mostly portable so that rooms could be multifunctional sleeping room, dining room, and reception room, for example. Even during the Meiji era, when various styles of Western architecture and interiors were introduced, ordinary homes still remained largely traditional. It was not until after the Second World War that furniture of Western origin, such as chairs and beds, penetrated into Japanese society on a large scale.
This fact alone probably explains why a major study of Japanese furniture has not been undertaken.
A recent pioneer scholar in this area of research is Kazuko Koizumi. She has published many books concerning the history of Japanese interiors and furniture, among them, Traditional Japanese Furniture (1986), the first thorough research in this area written in English. Also, in 1995, she published Shitsunai to Kagu no Rekishi (The History of Interior and Furniture) in Tokyo, which discusses in detail, not only the history and the social context behind traditional Japanese furniture, but also Westernised objects that emerged in modern times to facilitate foreign visitorsí homes and newly built Western-style public architecture. However, there is one area that is hardly mentioned: this is export furniture, especially that of the Meiji era. Furniture in both Japanese and Western tastes was produced extensively during this period.
Japanese export furniture was virtually unknown at home even in the Meiji era, because it was all sent abroad and was also at odds with the traditional Japanese interior. Moreover, within thirty years of the end of the Meiji era, a major earthquake and the Second World War destroyed what little furniture of this type may have been in Japan. As a result, such peculiar objects were either unknown or almost completely forgotten by the Japanese. Today, people in Japan and abroad have started to pay more attention to the Meiji arts, though it is still not unusual to find books referring to Meiji export furniture as Chinese or ëcolonialí.1 In my paper, therefore, I will present further discussion of this rather ignored area.
In the second chapter, I will discuss pre-Meiji export furniture, so-called
Namban (Southern Barbarians, 1549-1613) and Komo (Red Hair, 1614-1858) lacquer wares exported from Nagasaki by the Portuguese, Dutch, English, and others. As this is an area where major research has already been undertaken, I shall only give a relatively brief overview. I believe, however, that it is quite important to an examination of Meiji export furniture to start by looking at what preceded it. This inspection should convey to us an insight into how the Japanese absorbed Western culture, and how hybrid pieces adopting Eastern and Western ideas were created in an extraordinary environment when Japan was mostly isolated from the rest of the world.



In the third chapter I will discuss the social context of furniture in the Meiji period (1868 - 1912), dividing it into four parts. The first section, ìThe Reopening of Japanî, will reveal how sensational the Meiji Restoration was, how the Japanese and Westerners reacted to this change, and how the export of Japanese artefacts started. The second section,Western Style Furniture Produced in Japan for Domestic Use, will explain how this new business emerged in Japan, what information on Western furniture and interiors was available to the Japanese, and what did and what did not penetrate into Japanese society. The third,Western Style Furniture Exported from Japan, will compare Meiji export furniture with export pieces of the earlier Namban and Komo periods, and will examine how it was sent to the West. Finally, in the fourth section,Japonisme and the Aesthetic Movement, I will discuss development in the West: what information on Japan was available to the Europeans and Americans after the reopening of Japan, how influential it was, and what kinds of furniture and interiors were produced under this influence.
In the fourth chapter, various pieces of diverse Meiji export furniture will be examined in detail. Because this was the time when Japanese manufacture achieved a dramatic transformation from undeveloped production to aggressive exportation, a wide range of crafts were produced from many different materials. Therefore, this chapter is composed of four sections: lacquer, marquetry/parquetry, carved wood, and cloisonnÈ enamel. I have concentrated on furniture in Western shapes produced solely for the export market, and I have endeavoured to compare them to contemporary Western furniture which displayed stylistic associations with Japan.
For this research I have tried to examine Meiji export furniture at first hand as much as possible. I have visited many sources in Europe, the United States, and Japan: auction houses, antique dealers, museums and collectors. To complement these, I have referred to magazine articles and sales catalogues of main auction houses and retailers, particularly those of the former Sothebyís Belgravia which first reintroduced Meiji export furniture on a large scale.
Since no extensive research in this area is available, I have tried to date objects and identify makers by examining the documents of the world exhibitions and guide books issued during the Meiji era, by talking to experts on Japanese arts, as well as interviewing the descendants of those people who were actively involved in exporting this Japanese furniture. Amongst other documents, I depended heavily on the records of world exhibitions, Meiji-ki Bankoku Hakurankai Bijutsuhin Shuppin Mokuroku (The List of Exhibits of World Exhibitions in the Meiji Era), edited by the Tokyo National Research Institute of Cultural Properties in 1997. This is an integrated work based on various records left in Japan and the West. Moreover, Onchi Zuroku (Onchi Illustrations), republished by the Tokyo National Museum in 1997, became an extremely precious source for identifying earlier Meiji export furniture. The attached CD ROM contains the craft designs prepared for the world and domestic exhibitions held between 1875 and 1881. These represent only a small part of all the objects actually produced, yet approximately 340 designs of furniture and household articles are included, and still many of them have not been matched with the actual objects by the Tokyo National Museum. Fortunately, I have located several objects with the designs from this source, which I will mention in the fourth chapter in detail.
Due to limited time, and in order to keep the dissertation shorter, I have focused chiefly on objects and documents available in Britain, the United States, and Japan. I acknowledge, however, the importance of other countries to the analysis of Meiji export furniture, particularly France, Germany, and China. It cannot be overstated how much Japanese art owes to Chinese influence, and Meiji export furniture also displayed this feature, not so much from direct influence from China but mainly from the confusing image of Japan held in the West.
In addition, in this paper, I have chosen to exclude the following Meiji export furniture: bamboo, straw works, and porcelain inlaid furniture. Straw works were popularly exported in the Meiji era although they tended to be small size objects; porcelain inlaid furniture was quite rare and, I believe, produced only from the end of the Edo to the beginning of the Meiji era. I had intended to include bamboo furniture in this paper until the last minute. It was actively exported in the Meiji era and left a large influence on western furniture: numerous copies were produced both with real and false bamboo. In the course of this research, I have encountered several interesting objects produced both in Japan and in the West, but the majority of bamboo furniture was utilitarian variety. Therefore, I assumed that making the same kind of analysis with other techniques lacquer, wood carving, and cloisonnÈ would be difficult.
I have tried to make up some kind of systematic analysis of Meiji export furniture, including rough dating and identification. Moreover, I have endeavoured to describe the cultural exchange between Japan and the West by comparing Japanese export furniture to Western furniture which displays strong influence from Japan.

1 I found at least three such English and two Chinese books: one of them is Peter Wain, ed., Millerís Chinese and Japanese Antiques Buyerís Guide (London: Octopus Publishing Group, 1999), 266-67.2

NEXT
Contents
Chapter I - Introduction
Chapter II - Pre-Meiji Export Furniture
Chapter III - Social Context in the Meiji Era
Chapter IV - Meiji Export Furniture
Chapter V - Conclusions
Appendix - Footnotes
BACK