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Society / Culture

The Japanese House: Material Culture in the Modern Home

(Berg Publishers 2010)

Inge Daniels

Carefully constructed, clutter-free, calm: such is the commonly held, almost fetishistic, image of the minimalist aesthetic and consequent serenity of the Japanese dwelling. Yet this study focuses rather on the friction and messiness of the modern Japanese home, positioning it as a place of in-betweens: of the ideal and the mundane, sentient and material, human and non-human; and of Japanese and Western, desire and duty.
In-betweens appear also in the social and spatial boundaries between family members and between them and visitor(s) or the larger community. Such boundaries are more complex than the inside-outside dichotomy of uchi-soto: fluidity, intertwining, and negotiation are involved.
Author Inge Daniels invites the reader into 30 contemporary urban dwellings in Kansai, revealing the domestic material culture found therein. In addition to such core areas as aesthetic choice, order, and hospitality, she also probes those having to do with areas not on display: storage, displacement, and disposal, for example. These are particularly relevant to the surplus of materials that flows into the modern Japanese home, causing tension between value and obligation.
She examines the home as a highly gendered space: the social expectations placed on men and women in terms of domestic roles are mirrored in the allocation of space, in decoration, design, and in objects. She also investigates other contemporary issues—such as community relations, class, consumption, recycling, and generational divides—through the lens of the home.
Daniels presents her careful research along with intimate photography, noting that text alone cannot communicate the powers held by things. The contemporary Japanese dwellings she presents are far from minimalist but are perhaps all the more fascinating for it.

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