A piece of furniture speaks volumes about history, lifestyles and people's sense of beauty, according to Masashi Saito, curator of the Furniture Museum in Tokyo's Harumi district.

To demonstrate his point, he points to two "tansu" clothes chests crafted during the Meiji Period. Both are elaborately decorated and have ornamental handles, locks and hinges. But each piece had a clearly different purpose, according to Saito.

One of the chests, adorned with ornaments of lions and dragons, was probably meant to store a man's clothes, he said. The other chest, decorated with patterns of pine, bamboo and plum trees -- considered symbols of good luck in Japan -- was made for a wedding parade.