1st Research Workshop

Date: 22 November 2002, at 15.20
Place: Kobe University
Lecturer: Mori Junko (Independent Curator and Researcher)
Theme: Japanese Women and Chair: Three Case Studies in 1920s-30s

Chair, Modernism, Women, Japan

During the 1920s and 30s Japan started to exploit the idea of modernisation by borrowing certain aspects of western life-style. Since the reopening of ports to foreign trade in 1853 to an increased number of western countries, Japan realised it lacked new technology, information and skills. To catch up with the western industrial system, the Japanese government believed that the transformation of traditional Japanese living to a western lifestyle would ultimately help to rationalize the nation’s lifestyle. The government and intellectuals started to organize exhibitions for the nation to encourage this transformation. In particular, the use of the chair was the key to this transformation, being the object that the traditional Japanese house lacked. The absence of the chair in the home was considered to be the weakness that prevented modernisation, so the chair came to symbolize the modernisation and reorganisation of Japanese living.

This research will focus on modernisation in Japan through the relationship of Japanese women and the use of the chair in the 1920s and 30s. During this period Japanese women’s lives came to express modernity through their fashions and lifestyles. They used the key object of modernisation, the chair, during significant stages in their lives, and they helped to establish the use of the chair in Japanese life. They studied the use of the chair in public spaces, such as restaurants at department stores. Their knowledge surrounding the chair was transferred to their private space, and their influence on the use of the chair in private was not insignificant. As the military power brought the nation to examine and rethink Japanese tradition, it probably seemed that they had woken up from their dream, the utopian image of the bright future of Japan. Modernisation in Japan appeared to be a limited and short lived dream. Japanese women’s experience of modernisation in Japan was also very limited. They had to return to the traditional Japanese way of living. Marriage limited the majority of Japanese women, for those that had such experiences, they now had to forget them and face a different reality. The idea of young Japanese women, using the chair in the private space symbolized modernisation in Japan. It was a limited utopian image of the future.

Co-organiser: The Society for Cultural Studies in Body, Design, Media. Music and Text, Kobe University