Parallels: Denmark/Japan

In April Dansk Møbelkunst Gallery visited Kohseki, a family owned design studio based in Kyoto, Japan. Kohseki was founded by architect Yoshiaki Nakamura, who is deeply engaged in integrating Danish and Japanese style elements in his design and architectural works.

The visit made us reflect about the similarities between Japanese and Danish furniture art, architecture and crafts, about the aesthetic affinities, which the Danish art historian Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen equally points out in her book Influences from Japan in Danish Art and Design 1870-2010.

The most striking similarities are of course the traditional partiality for wood, the meticulous care of fine craftsmanship and an idiom characterized by a simple elegance; the art of simplification. A profound respect and sense of natural materials are evident in the furniture of both

countries; in Japan inspired by the Buddhist connection with nature, the belief that nature is a sacred resource, and in Denmark exemplified by the devotion to the cabinetmaking tradition. Both countries attach great importance to the handicraft tradition and have excelled in elevating cabinetmaking to an art in itself.

Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen emphasizes, that Danish artists were among the first in the world to engage with Japanese art and adapt element of it in their work, creating an independent Danish form of expression. She traces this tradition back to the end of the 19th Century and shows how inspiration from Japanese art became a catalyst with wide-ranging and lasting effects. This impact of Japonisme was so extensive that it became an essential element in the preconditions for Danish Modernism in the 20th Century and for the status as a Design Nation, which Denmark holds today. At first it was the motifs, the subjects and themes that were fascinating. Later on it was the treatment of materials and the artistic processes that enticed Danish artists, craftsmen and designers to travel to Japan. It is thus possible to trace influences from Japan in the works of Danish architects and designers such as Børge Mogensen, Hans J. Wegner and Poul Kjærholm – in the functional simplicity of Mogensen’s design; in the minimalistic approach of Kjærholm’s endeavor to distill every piece of furniture down to its very essence, and in Wegner’s innate feeling for the nature of wood, its possibilities and limitations.

Today, however, the influence is mutual. You find a deep admiration of Danish furniture design in Japan, especially the work of  Hans J. Wegner and Finn Juhl is highly regarded. Its elegant, organic lines and the exquisite craftsmanship inspire and complement the Japanese tradition. At Kohseki, Yoshiaki Nakamura, thus combines the traditional Japanese sukiya architecture (tea houses) and design with Danish furniture art.