Tansu In Your Home
By TY HEINEKEN
Because Tansu were primarily intended as house alcove or storeroom storage cabinetry, and not furniture in Japan, they can be used anywhere in a western setting. In our home, we use a clothing storage chest on chest as split pieces on either side of our bed. In the library, a small Edo Period chest on wheels holds the music system. In the dining room, a large formal chest from Sendai is used for table linens. Because no preconception of appropriateness need apply, Tansu can be used anywhere.
- However, several limitations should be understood:
- 1 - Tansu size and proportion are determined by the architecture of the Japanese traditional house. As an adjunct to the overall plan, size was most always in a measurement multiple of 30 centimeters (the Shaku in Japanese carpentry). For example, a Tansu that is 3 Shaku in height would be 3 Shaku wide by 1 1/2 Shaku deep. There might be some variation depending on age and provenance, but generally this proportion rule will apply.
- 2 - Japan has a distinct rainy season, so the inherent moisture of woods used in chest construction may not be fully compatible with your centrally heated/air conditioned home.
- 3 - Tansu were designed to be moved around as needed. Therefore, the primary construction joinery is usually flexible rather then rigid as with a dovetail. Openings between parallel boards (not cracks in a single board) are to be expected occasionally with secondary woods such as drawer flooring and case back panels.
- 4 - Urushi lacquer as a finish is extremely reliable against normal wear. However, because it is always "alive" and capable of change if stimulated, it must be kept away from hot rays of the sun.
On balance, there can be an advantage under some circumstances to choosing a reproduction over an antique: use of kiln dried primary woods, use of veneered plywood as secondary material, the application of a fully predictable "permanent" sprayed finish.