Western homes typically use an object on the perimeter as a focal
point, such as a fireplace, a painting, or an elaborate window treatment. Eastern
interiors, on the other hand, focus on a central object, such as a hearth (irori), a
garden, an altar, or an elaborate still life composition.
Japanese homes also commonly have display alcoves, called
tokonoma. Objects placed in these alcoves generate two types of feelings, either (1) a
natural or organic feel, by displaying an odd number of objects together, or (2) an
ordered and disciplined environment by using an even quantity. For example, three
calligraphy brushes in a cup would be organic, and four pebbles on a dish would be
Japanese displays are fluid. In other words, a Japanese alcove
may display a scroll one-week, and a set of pots the next. Eastern cultures tend to store
and rotate objects. (This is probably for two reasons; (1) limited space, and, (2) visual
pollution, outside the home, as the population increases.) Japanese displays are a
reflection of the season, celebration, or honored guest. This minimal approach focuses on
the quality and craftsmanship.
Instead of rotating objects, westerners tend to "display it
all." (I guess its because they we’re afraid someone whose given us something
may come over and we won’t have it out?) A westerner would also tend to add to a
display to create a balance, whereas an easterner would create harmony by taking away. To
easterners, less is more, order is harmony, and there is a place for everything and
everything is in its place.
The tea ceremony room is one of the most important areas in the Japanese home. It is a
place for sharing, in silence, and contemplation. Typically, a tearoom has a pool
surrounded by pebbles. I mention this because it signifies the importance of water, and
its serenity, in eastern culture. A bit of this serenity can be achieved in our own homes
through the use of rock garden and fountains.
Furnishings tend to be minimal and multi-functional. For example a futon is used for
sitting and sleeping, or serving trays double as place settings. To give ideas on how you
might use Japanese furnishings or artifacts in your home, I would like to go onto the next
topic, which is about antiques. (Reproductions of these objects can be found at reasonable
*Note: For ideas about how to combine western furnishings, and eastern elements, please
see the first book I have listed below.
*ANTIQUES OR REPRODUCTIONS
Here are some classic oriental objects, and interesting applications, one might use to add
eastern influences to the home. Please consult the second book I have listed below for
- A hibachi: A hibachi, in the true sense, is not a small tabletop grill as the
western world defines it. It is a finely crafted, portable fireplace, used in old homes
and shops to provide heat, warm sake, and boil water for tea. It was once also the
emotional center and gathering place for family friends. Original hibachis were ash
receptacles in low wooden boxes. They were also made from ceramics, lacquer, rattan and
metal. Large hibachis can be used as display boxes, or bases for end tables. Smaller
hibachis, which were once hand warmers, are now champagne buckets or flower holders.
- Kimonos: A kimono is to a Japanese artist, as a canvas is to a western painter.
Wedding kimonos and fans are especially decorative and valuable. Kimonos can be displayed
in a number of locations in the home by hanging them on clothing stands or decorative
- Obis: An obi is a wide sash worn with a kimono. Obi’s make excellent table
runners, or can be hung in a group, behind a bed, to create a headboard.
- Tenigui: These are rectangular cloths, which were once used as headbands, now
function as placemats.
- Keyaki: This is an antique door that could be used for a desk or coffee table
- Sake Kegs double as planters, end tables, and lamp bases, depending on their
- Japanese clothing stands can be used as towel racks.
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