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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Nation, Modernity and Interior Decoration in the 1922 Peace Commemoration Tokyo Exposition Culture Village

June 21, 2000

Sarah Teasley

In 1922, the year before the 1923 Kanto earthquake, Bunkamura (quote;Culture Villagequote;) modern Japan’s first model home exhibition, was held in Ueno Park in conjunction with the Tokyo Peace Commemoration Exhibition. The twelve homes shown aimed at creating both an ideal domestic environment for the new urban middle class and, by extension, an ideal modern identity for those who might live in the spaces designed. As such, interior designs for the homes combined functional and aesthetic stylistic elements from quote;Japanesequote; and quote;Western,quote; quote;traditionalquote; and quote;modernquote; domestic architecture.

Met with critical ambivalence and popular disdain, the homes and their interiors can be seen nonetheless as one crystallization of pre-earthquake definitions of and desire for a way of living– and being– quote;modern.quote; The homes also provide a concrete example of the Taisho-era belief in the power of design to shape identity, a belief best exemplified by the period’s various quote;lifestyle improvement campaigns,quote; and in the power of spectacle and commercial display to influence public desire.

Working from the assumption that style functions as a language to construct and convey meaning or identity, my presentation will examine how an identity as quote;modern Japanesequote; was negotiated through the rhetoric of and discourse on style in the Bunkamura interiors. After a brief excursion into attitudes towards interior design in media, daily life and the architectural world of 1920s Tokyo as demonstrated in Bunkamura’s planning and production and in media reaction to the exhibition, I will introduce a number of design elements found in the interiors– wall, ceiling, floor and window treatments, furniture, the layout of furniture in rooms, the use of trends like Secession, Arts and Crafts and japonisme, among others- along with discourse on the interiors by their designers and promoters as well as popular and specialist media.

Written along intersecting axes of quote;Japanese-Westernquote; and quote;traditional-modernquote; which turn nation itself into an identifiable, employable style for interior design, the actual designs translated and re-arranged this pre-set vocabulary in ways that made the familiar strangely new, and the new oddly comfortable. Whether imported japonisme, cork flooring that allowed both chairs and floor seating or tatami rooms made opulent with neo-classical lighting, the resulting combinations and hybrids can be seen as their designers’ suggestions for managing to live on the interstices, and in their familiarization of the unfamiliar and unfamiliarization of the familiar might be understood through the trope of the uncanny.