London exhibition provides view inside typical Japanese residence



An exhibition in London and an accompanying book are giving people a glimpse inside a typical Japanese home, which the author believes may dispel some Western notions.

Inge Daniels, an anthropologist at Oxford University, has studied 30 families in the Kansai region and is presenting her findings to visitors at the Geffrye Museum in London via the recreation of a modern family home in “At Home in Japan.”

She wants to give the British public a more rounded view of how ordinary Japanese live and move away from the minimalist images of homes as portrayed in interior design books, for example.

“I got frustrated by the stereotype of exotic Japan in the West, which has been internalized by some people in Japan,” Daniels said. When I first visited Japan in 1992 I tried looking for these exotic homes and realized they were not typical.”

Explaining the reasoning behind her research, she said, “I wanted to learn about similarities between homes in the West and Japan and also differences, but I didn’t want to make this an exercise in voyeurism, either.”

Visitors get the chance to walk around an open-plan lounge, dining room and kitchen (an “LDK”), a Western-style room, a bathroom and traditional room with tatami.

Daniels and the staff have painstakingly tried to represent every aspect of the Japanese home, complete with a Japanese-style mailbox and even a fire bucket. Many of the items have been lent by the families who participated in her book: “The Japanese House. Material Culture in the Modern Home.”

One of Daniels’ main findings is that Japanese homes, which are generally smaller than those in the West, are overwhelmed by the accumulation of items, especially gifts.

The well-established gift-giving culture has accelerated with the rising standard of living since the 1970s, she says.

The presents can range from small souvenirs to larger items such as kimono, dolls and furniture which are given to people at certain points in their lives.

Daniels said that in the past, people were more able to dispose of unwanted gifts by passing them on to neighbors and other close family members.

But due to the loosening of these ties and because presents are now more durable, householders find themselves hoarding more unwanted and unused items. As a result, they have to find new storage solutions or move to bigger homes, which is not always easy.

“Japanese do have real anxieties about getting rid of unused gifts that have spent a long period of time in their homes because they are seen as being objects which you should care for. By contrast, British people will only generally be concerned if the item has a sentimental attachment.”

However, Daniels says Japanese are increasingly finding ways to divest themselves of these unwanted items by selling them at specialty shops, bazaars and flea markets popular with foreign residents.

The academic was also struck by the fact that homes normally have a lifespan of about 40 years before they are torn down and rebuilt, in part due to earthquake regulations and the primacy put on new rather than old.

“At Home in Japan” will run at the Geffrye Museum until Aug. 29.