Tansu refers to the term given to the antique cabinetry of Japan made mainly in the period from 1860 to 1910, the glorious time of the Meiji period. Japanese Tansu Cabinets convey the region of origin, the owner’s status, and wealth.
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What is The Japanese Tansu Chest?
Japanese Tansu Chest is well-crafted storage furniture in Japan, which initially is used for clothing, futon, or food storage.
Traditionally, Tansu reflects the social background and social status of the house owner and is designed flexibly to specialize in the room where it would be used.
It could be designed with or without drawers, most of the tansu chests are heavy, so some of them include wheels for mobility.
In Japan, the period from 1868 to 1912 (which is called Meiji era) is the Golden Age of Tansu-making, and the products from this time are always appreciated and hunted by people who love antiques and Japanese-style furniture.
Japanese tansu cabinets accommodated the daily lifestyle and the culture that was commonplace between the years of 1688 and 1704.
The word tansu was a combination of two words: Tan and Su.
The first-ever recorded evidence of tansu dates back to the Genroku era of the Edo period in Japanese history.
Tansu cabinet furniture originates from the Edo, Meji, and Taisho periods.
It was first made for the court of the emperor and feudal lords. Tansu was often made from softwoods that were lightweight, making it easy to transport possessions.
Typical characteristics of Tansu Furniture
- All Japanese tansu cabinets hold two qualities in common: mobile and functional.
- Heavy iron hardware.
- Minimalist Design with straight lines and little ornate detailing.
- Hardware was functional because iron was forged at this point in time.
- Does not have legs.
- Made from soft and hardwoods; Keyaki (elm), Kuri (chestnut), Ezo Matsu (pine), Sugi (cedar), Kiri (paulownia), and Hinoki (cypress).
- Rich wood grains.
- Coated in a dry or lacquered finish.
Tansu embodies the exotic appeal of handcrafted Asian furniture while filling the need for highly mobile storage units.
Japanese Tansu cabinet often uses iron, a status symbol in Japanese culture, and often associated with prominence and nobility.
Once you understand the common features of tansu furniture, you’ll instantly be able to distinguish tansu furniture from other types of cultural furnishings around the world
Several types of Tansu chest are widely used in Japanese society
1. Step Cabinets (Kaidan -Tansu)
The tansu step cabinet or Kaidan – Tansu (also known as Kaidan – Dansu) is one of the most popular Tansu that the Western people consider.
It is a combination of a staircase and a storage cabinet, which includes drawers and compartments with sliding doors.
The user could creatively use the step chest as a room decoration as well as a room divider.
The price of Tansu relies on) on the material and the skill of the craftsmen.
Sometimes, they use a different type of wood in one chest to create extraordinary features.
It is invariably known as the hakodan, hako Kaidan, also the Kaidan-dansu, literally box stair, and Japanese stair chest or step-chest.
Its history has been obscured by myth and anecdote.
It has been said that Kaidan dansu made in two and three sections reflects the desire to easily move them in case of an emergency.
Tansu – the term refers to a history of portable cabinetry- such as isho-dansu, choba-dansu can be counted on to have iron hardware or framing which aids in their portability, but the one would be hard-pressed to move Kaidan dansu.
They are deep and awkwardly shaped.
While multiple section Kaidan dansu could, in theory, be dismantled and removed from a burning house, we discount the practical realities, these would be full and heavy fixtures and require multiple persons to carry them.
It’s no way to escape from disasters.
Also, many Kaidan dansu were affixed to walls for stability thus rendering them immovable.
2. Clothing Cabinets (Isho – Dansu)
Isho – Dansu is designed for clothes storage and considered a perfect wedding gift in the old days.
The clothing Japanese Tansu cabinets normally are decorated colorfully and adorned with ornate iron hardware.
It is divided into two kinds: single section and double section.
The double section chest has one chest stacked upon another.
3. Merchant Cabinets (Choba Tansu)
The Merchant Tansu chest is designed for businessmen and shopkeepers, and become popular during the Edo period (1613 – 1868).
This period saw the rapid rising of the merchant class in Japan.
It is mainly used for storing records, account books of transactions.
The Choba Tansu varies in size and characterized by multiple compartments with lots of locks.
4. Kitchen Cabinets (Mizuya – Dansu)
The name Mizuya comes from the word Mizuya which means the place of water.
The Mizuya Dansu is a two-section stacking Tansu kitchen cabinet and is placed in the main room of the tea house where shelving and a bamboo grate exist for cleaning and storing ceramics.
This Tansu cabinet is also known as Daidokoro Todana (kitchen shelves).
The Kitchen Tansu chest is widely used in Edo-period, as a result of the change in eating and cooking habits.
The occurrence of new vegetables and crops brings a variety of ingredients and allows the Japanese to devote time to cooking rather than cooking one-pot meals for survival.
The first cooking guide book arrived in the same period as the use of Kitchen Dansu.
It was the transformation of the kitchen room itself that coincided with crops and cooking.
The invention of fuel-efficient kamado (earth ovens) has turned conventional workspaces in urban and richer rural homes into true kitchens; spaces entirely dedicated to the art of cooking.
The adjacent Mizuya, packed with food, ceramic dishes, cookbooks, and utensils, complete the picture.
***Hikone, the town of the castle on Lake Biwa in the province of Omi, is said to be the birthplace of the kitchen-chest style.
They became popular, with differences in the cities of Kyoto, Omi, and Nagoya.
Popular to most mizuyas is the compartment enclosed by two sliding doors backed by a screen or an open mesh; the resulting enclosed space is much like a food safe.
Many of the other compartments were made of ceramics, lacquer trays, pots, and utensils.
The Tansu kitchen cabinets, due to its design, is one of the most easily integrated chests in today’s western homes.
The woods used for the carcass were hinoki (cypress) and sugi (cedar) with keyaki (zelkova elm) for the front drawers and often for the door panels.
Many of the kitchen chests used kaki (persimmon) instead of keyaki.
Such chests are typically from the late ages of Meiji and Taisho.
Finishes on the Tansu chest ranged from stains to clean lacquer.
There was no question that years of smoke in the cooking area had its finishing effect.
The carcass exhibited mortise-and-tenon carpentry throughout, with attached panels and inner shelves typical.
Best Japanese Tansu Cabinets Shortlist
Product images Product names Editor's rating Price
CHINAFURNITUREONLINE MING STYLE STEP TANSU CHEST 4.5* Check
KB3H KIRI WOOD CHOBA TANSU 5 Check
EASTERN CLASSICS JAPANESE STYLE TANSU 5 Check
*Ratings are from Amazon at the time of publication and can be changed
The Best Japanese Tansu Cabinets
Here, we will explore in detail the differences in features and construction of different Tansu chests available in the market
1. The Step Tansu
The Tansu chest stair provides shelf-like space for decoration elements.
The traditional sliding doors and Tansu chest drawers bring the light Japanese style to your home.
This cabinet is delivered partially assembled so the user needs to put pieces together.
It receives positive feedback from customers about high quality and lock design.
However, it is quite heavy so it takes you time to assemble carefully and you might need at least two people to make it quickly.
Besides, the drawers can not be assessed from the other side, thus it is not perfect for freestanding or a room divider.
- High quality with unique lock design
- Multiple function Tansu could act as a steps/ room divider for your room
- Providing lots of storage
- Taking time to assemble
- Heavy and hard to move
- A little bit of smell of its materials.
Besides, Japanese Tansu furniture is also a good choice.
If you love DIY, the Woodcraft Tansu is an option.
It provides Tansu chest plans to build the model of the Kaidan – Tansu.
This model is commonly found in artisan homes in Japan during the 18th and 19th centuries.
The buyers could customize it with any color they choose and will end up with a unique piece of furniture.
2. The Choba Tansu chest
|Item weight||21 pounds|
|Product Dimensions||22 x 12 x 18 inches|
|Item model number||KB3H|
The Choba Tansu cabinet by KB3H is made of Kiri wood (also known as Paulownia wood) that is very popular in Japan.
This environmentally friendly fast growing wood is very lightweight, fine-grained, soft, and warp-resistant.
Fine detailing including dovetail joinery throughout and traditional iron hardware makes this chest a handsome and practical addition to most interiors.
The Japanese Tansu cabinets are a mix of drawer sizes and removable sliding doors, this functional chest is ideal for organizing crafts, office supplies, or jewelry metal stand sold separately.
It comprises two sliding doors surrounded by drawers with classy handles.
It will instantly add an elegant Asian touch to your home.
|Product Dimensions||H 36 in. x W 48 in. x D 18 in.|
The Tansu chest antique is a Japanese Meiji Period, which is made of Keyaki wood with hand-cut iron hardware.
Born during the 19th century, this keyaki (elm) wood Tansu was a fine example of Japan’s traditional mobile cabinetry.
Featuring a lacquered finish with a muted red tone, this antique Tansu chest presents a rectangular top, sitting above a perfectly organized façade.
A long upper drawer at the top is followed by three medium-sized ones on the left, while the right side comprises two petite drawers surrounding a central door, the “safe”.
This door opens to reveal additional hidden drawers.
The front is fitted with exceptionally rendered hand-cut iron hardware with floral motifs, while the handles on the sides remind us that this piece is created for travel.
With its clean lines, nicely weathered appearance, and convenient storage, this Japanese Tansu cabinet will bring an exotic touch to any home.
- Made from the Meiji period, high quality and rich in history
- Excellent support from sellers
- There is no key
- Wear consistent with age and use
3. The Isho – Dansu Chest
The clothing Tansu chest for sale by Eastern Classics is made of paulownia wood with a teak finish ensuring its good quality.
The small Tansu is perfect for organizing jewelry and storing important papers.
|Item weight||13 pounds|
|Drawer size||1.5 inches H x 11 inches W|
|Box size||13 inches W x 12 inches D x 15 inches H|
|Product Dimensions||20 x 20 x 18 inches|
- Good quality Tansu
- Easy to deliver, handy size to organize your stuff
- Excellent constructed and finishes
- Limited storage
- No key to ensuring the precious things are kept safe.
Additionally, these Japanese Tansu cabinets for sale are from the Meiji period and are made of Keyaki wood from the 19th century, with three drawers and iron hardware.
To be born in Japan during the Meiji period, this Tansu chest features a rectangular top sitting above three drawers each fitted with iron hardware.
The sides present carrying handles, reminding us that this Tansu chest was created for travel.
The grand simplicity of its lines and dark patina will make this Japanese Meiji period Tansu chest a perfect decorative choice to store clothes in a bedroom or add a relaxed presence to any living room.
|Product Dimensions||H 34 in. x W 34 in. x D 17 in.|
- Perfect decorative option
- Meiji period Tansu chest with high-quality wood.
- Require proper care
- Hard to mix with other furniture
4. The Kitchen Cabinets
The antique Tansu chest for sale that was used in the large kitchen to store food in the middle section was made in 1885 in Kyoto, while chopsticks and spoons were put in the drawers.
It is originally the upper half of a 2 section Tansu kitchen cabinet, now reinforced with a new wood top.
The storage makes an attractive buffet for the dining room with sliding doors and drawers to store accessories or places in the living room beneath a flat-screen TV.
Hinoki (cypress) wood body with keyaki (zelkova) wood drawers, sliders, and butterfly slider door inserts.
|Product Dimensions||H 38.5 in. x W 74.5 in. x D 18.63 in.|
- Provide lots of storage and could be used in a large kitchen
- Open and close smoothly
- Require proper care in the kitchen area
- Heavy to move
Frequently Asked Questions About Japanese Tansu Cabinets
1. What do you need to consider when choosing Tansu?
There are several important factors for you to check before deciding to buy a Tansu: its materials, space, and mobility.
Firstly, the material decides the Tansu cabinets’ durability.
Wood is usually used to make Tansu, however, sometimes other materials such as copper, brass, and steel are used to make different parts of the chest.
The material should not be too heavy for you to move the cabinets and you should choose the one which could withstand different conditions.
The Tansu chest which is made of Kiri wood and iron hardware with high quality is frequently recommended.
The second factor is your space, to determine the size of the Japanese Tansu cabinets, the user should count the number of drawers and shelves offered by different chest to secure the space in your home or office.
2. Is it hard to ship the whole Tansu chest to home?
Most of the Tansu chests are quite heavy to move, so when you buy a big cabinet, let make sure it is portable when considering its weight and features.
Notably, a Tansu that could be separated into small parts is easier for delivery.
3. Is it safe to keep things in the Japanese Tansu cabinets?
Several features related to the opening and locking mechanism differ among many kinds of Tansu cabinets.
A Tansu chest antique could have an inbuilt locking mechanism, and some use keys to open and lock them.
Depending on your interest and habit, you can choose the kind of locker to secure your belonging from any intruders.
Additionally, the drawer should close and open smoothly.
4. How to preserve the tansu?
The price of a high -quality antique Tansu chest for sale is considerable, so it is better with proper maintenance that could extend its lifetime.
The way to take care of a Tansu relies on its material and how it’s finishing.
The finishing step symbolizes its style.
For example, burnt lacquer is used to give a Tansu a protective coating and improves its look.
Several types of finish do not allow the oil to sink into the wood.
Therefore, users need to notice the tips from the sellers for proper care of the Japanese Tansu cabinets.
Secondly, it is not good to put a Tansu in harsh conditions such as direct sunlight, it should be kept away from heat, humidity to prevent it from fading out.
It is recommended to use a dehumidifier to keep your Japanese Tansu cabinets away from moisture.
To clean the surface, you should use a cloth and murphy’s oil to clean.
Strong detergents should be avoided to preserve its original color.
Regarding polishing Tansu, boil turpentine and linseed oil often are used.
5. What is the regular price for a Tansu?
The price of a Tansu chest relies on the material used in the making process.
The one with the exquisite design and features comes at a higher price.
If your budget is limited, you could consider the second-hand option that imitates the original pieces. Especially, some Japanese Tansu chest requires a unique piece that is rare to find and the price is much higher.
In general, you can determine the cost basing on the features, materials, and purposes of the Tansu.
Japanese Tansu cabinets are a dramatic combination of utility and beauty, in which each piece carries a unique history. If you love antique furniture but have never considered Japanese Tansu chests before, it may be time for you to think about finding one for your sweet home.