By Takeguchi Momoko and Alistair Seton : Excerpt from Daruma 18
In Westerners’ homes in Japan, you see furniture no longer found in the small houses and apartments most Japanese live in today. Old clothing chests with elaborate metal fittings are a typical example. Foreign visitors to Japan who become interested in them keep this useful souvenir of Japan after returning home and can use the strongly-built chests their whole life — and their grandchildren can too!
On’na-dansu - Bridal Clothes Chest
Many antique galleries deal in chests, proving their popularity; Daruma has received lots of requests to feature them, so in this issue we focus on the Sendai chests which are of special interest to you, the reader.
Genesis of chests
The recorded history of chests is relatively short, though one cannot help thinking that a lot must have gone unrecorded since the genesis of the chest kept in the Shosoin repository for the last 12 centuries.According to Nihon-shi Shohyakka — Kagu (Furniture in the History of Japanese Goods) written by Koizumi Kazuko and published by Kondo Shuppan-sha in 1980, the oldest record of clothing chests was a description of the natural features of Osaka in 1679. It says that there was a shop in Shinsaibashi, which sells chests.This proves that clothing chests were available by then. They became widespread among the general public from the Shotoku era (1711 - 16) on.
Why is it not very long since chests first appeared? Ms Koizumi says that there are two reasons. One concerns the clothes needing storage.
1. Ordinary people did not have enough clothes to need drawers before then. At that time it was not unusual to have absolutely no spare clothes. The ruling class had lots of clothes, but their homes were spacious; they had storehouses and servants, so nagamochi (large rectangular chests) and hitsu (big boxes) were sufficient to store their clothes and other belongings. These are still available and turn up occasionally but are large and a tad impractical for ordinary apartment dwellers.During the Edo era (1603 - 1867), every daimyo (feudal lord) tried to better the lot of his clan, so the productive capacity of the fiefs expanded rapidly. The development of commerce and industry improved ordinary people’s lives: the number of kimono shops increased markedly, so people must have been buying more clothes. A landmark was the opening in 1673 of Echigo-ya (the forerunner of Mitsukoshi Department Store in Nihonbashi, Tokyo).People gradually came to need chests of drawers because their houses were small. They had to take out and put away their clothes every day, yet in the early 17th century there was no chest available in which to store them.
2. The other reason concerned materials and production. A good supply of wooden planks is needed to make chests of drawers. Producers had to be able to obtain easily and at a low price standardized timber of uniform thickness and size to make a chest.An expanded distribution system and the development of large and improved ripsaws for timber made this possible. The number of lumber dealers increased in the early Edo era as well as shops, which sold chests by processing planks obtained from them. From the mid-Edo era on, chests became widespread among ordinary people.
Topics in this issue: , chests, kagu, sendai
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