Time for a transformation
The Japanese aesthetic is often considerably opposed to the western approach; yet, there is widespread appeal for its distinctive style. But what about incorporating some of that typical design into your own home? It is entirely possible to get hold of Japanese furniture and home furnishings here in the UK to create your own Japanese inspired oasis.
A big question remains however, are we talking about traditional home aesthetics as you would see in a Ryokan or a Kyoto townhouse? or that of a modern Tokyo apartment? Both are possible and in fact often share characteristics and principles between them. Many modern interiors incorporate traditional qualities, albeit with updated finishes. So we must also ask, what Japanese furniture and furnishings would you find in a Japanese home?
If you’re ready to transform your living space, let’s take a look at what to get, and more importantly where you can get it, right here in the UK.
There are a number of aesthetic principles in Japan that influence the design of a Japanese home; one of the most important is named Kanso, which relates to the idea of simplicity whilst also focusing on functionality. This is where we get the minimalist look from. Focusing on Kanso is the ability to remove anything that is unnecessary and only keep items that serve a purpose, this in turn creates very open and flowing spaces but also gives ingenious design solutions for smaller spaces.
Shizen is another concept that plays out in many Japanese homes. It is a focus on natural aesthetics as opposed to heavily manufactured or imitated solutions, this is evident through the heavy use of materials such as wood and paper. It’s a concept that also makes spaces incredibly bright — both natural light and in colours. Lots of windows, see-through materials and light coloured furnishings are trademarks of a Shizen focused space.
When you spend enough time looking at Japanese interiors, whether that be traditional or modern, you start to notice recurring elements that relate to these principles. If we are going to encapsulate a Japanese essence at home, these need to be implemented in the decision making.
Now we have an understanding of the principles that make up a Japanese home, let’s look at some specific Japanese furniture that you might find in each.
Traditional Japanese furniture and furnishings
A futon is the primary type of bedding used in Japan. It is essentially a single mattress and duvet set that is laid on the floor without any supporting frame which is then able to be folded and stored away in the daytime. In Japan they are placed on tatami which is usually much softer than other flooring types and is said to provide a superior quality of sleep.
Appreciating that this style of bedding may be unusual and impractical outside Japan; as such, the futon has taken on a different form in the west. Instead, a futon is a folding style of sofa bed but can be used in a similar way.
A kotatsu is a type of square wooden table with a heater built-in underneath and is usually accompanied by a blanket or covering. The idea behind this is that whenever it is cold you can sit on the floor with your legs under the table and enclosed by the accompanying blanket whilst having a meal or perhaps snacks while watching TV etc. In a sense it’s an essential piece of comfort furniture for lazy days.
These are almost exclusively used in Japan although it is possible to acquire in the UK; however, if you do you will need to buy a 110v step-down transformer to be able to use it here.
Maybe one of the most iconic pieces of Japanese furniture, the chabudai is the centerpiece to a traditional dining experience. A chabudai is the extremely low table in which meals are eaten from, usually found in more traditional homes. Even lower than a Kotatsu, this almost floor level surface can often be folded away after use (much like many other pieces of Japanese furniture) to accommodate smaller spaces without being a permanent fixture.
If you are wanting this piece of unique Japanese furniture yourself you’re going to need something to sit on. (Not just the floor obviously.) You’re going to need the next item.
Often accompanying the dining arrangement is the Japanese floor chair known as zaisu. The best way to describe a zaisu is to imagine a standard chair but with no legs, its base sits or the floor but with a hard back to lean against which is used for much greater comfort while using a chabudai or a kotatsu. Zaisu comes in so many different styles and has been a constant addition to a Japanese home to the modern day, getting one to match an existing scheme shouldnt be a problem.
Zabutons are more casual sitting solutions for the home. They are thicker than standard floor cushions used when you just want to sit and relax on the floor. Pretty simple really, but they can also be used in conjunction with Zaisu for extra comfort. Zabutons are quite common throughout the Japanese home but are also used in other locations; sumo wrestling competitions provide Zabutons for spectators in the stadium.
(Fun fact. Spectators at the sumo match will throw their Zabutons at a top-ranked Yokozuna if he loses a bout.)
Now for something a little less intrusive but anyone can implement — Noren, a Japanese fabric divider. These fabric dividers are found in doorways absolutely everywhere. In the home these can be colourful ways to to separate rooms and can portray any kind of design imaginable, however, you will also find them in shop and business entryways emblazoned with logos or company names. You may also have seen them segregating public restrooms and changing rooms displaying the Kanji for male and female (男 and 女).
Now, normal Shoji are rice paper sliding doors/dividers normally found in traditionally built japanese houses. These are not something you can typically install into a western house; shoji screens however are a similar idea using the same materials, but are not a permanent fixture and so can be placed anywhere and much more accessible.
They act in a similar way to curtains; to block out or obscure part of a room whilst still allowing some light, sound, and air to flow freely. In a similar fashion to noren, these can be decorated with patterns and designs and can help segregate different areas of a home. Unlike traditional shoji doors, screens have transitioned into modern homes and are again an iconic symbol of a Japanese home.
What about some lighting for your new Japanese theme? Andon lighting is one of four main traditional lighting groups of Japan and the one most commonly used in the home. These are Japanese style lanterns that are often made with wood with shoji paper coverings and give off a diffused lighting in a room. Despite being made of paper and wood, these are quite safe as the light source is housed in a stronger holder made of ceramic or stone etc. What makes these so special is the simple yet elegant designs that can be created with the combination of materials.
These are a few examples of some of the unique Japanese furniture that can make up a Japanese home, and some ideas of what you may like to include in creating your own Japanese style. Apart from exclusive Japanese furniture there are other characteristics to look out for in other everyday pieces that closely resemble a Japanese theme; you will never see anything that is too bulky or overly prominent in a room, also well-defined edges are quite popular on any furniture.
Modern Japanese furniture
In comparison with the traditional Japanese furniture found above, modern Japanese furniture follows a more western approach. With that in mind, outfitting your home with contemporary Japanese inspired finishes should prove to be much easier — and much less of a drastic change.
The aesthetic principles of Kanso and Shizen or — to speak plainly — the minimalist look is perhaps more noticeable here. What you will find is that most modern Japanese furniture will be produced in a single piece of material; that’s to say, no assembly required here.
Natural wood finishes, well-defined edges and curves, and no additional adornments or features that serve no purpose are common characteristics. If you were to implement some replacements you will also find you have much more space as modern Japanese furniture doesn’t retain a bulkiness that is seen in other designs.
There is a deceptively simple appearance that hides elegance and fantastic ergonomics.
Where to buy Japanese furniture UK
As you may expect, if you are thinking of acquiring some Japanese furniture and furnishings, it can be quite an expensive endeavor. It’s also incredibly difficult to find reputable sellers in the UK that sell these sorts of products; however, there are a couple of options open to us depending on the style of aesthetics you’re after.
For many of the traditional styles of furniture mentioned above; you will need to go to a global seller such as:
As much as it pains me to say it, these are some of the best options when it comes to buying bigger Japanese products like furniture. Having extensively searched, reviewed, and scrutinised many individual items and most importantly the sellers, many seem to offer genuine goods; of course however, there will always be some that may be not so much. This is where buying from a well-known company should offer a bit of protection and reassurance.
If you would prefer something modern; many everyday homeware stores offer a Japanese ‘inspired’ selection that can fulfill that need, however selections may be limited. Somewhere like The Futon Company may be a great place to start the search. Aside from being one of the only places in the UK where you can get a genuine futon, much of their other furniture satisfies the Kanso and Shizen aesthetic principles.
However, if you are incredibly serious about acquiring some modern Japanese furniture, the next step up would be to visit manufacturers or Japanese sellers directly. Here are a number of starting points to go to:
Lastly there’s companies like Takumi Woodwork. This small company based in Japan can build bespoke Japanese style natural wood furniture from qualified carpenters.
Bringing about a bit of Japan into your own home can be achieved to a varying degree. It’s not really plausible or in fact sensible to go the full distance and install tatami rooms and shoji doors into a western style house; no, but adding a few pieces to the home here and there as well as keeping the principles of Kanso and Shizen when updating your home can create a subtle homage and appreciation of Japanese aesthetics.
It’s all about feeling a little more connected to Japan that is too far away, but doesn’t have to be.