Found MUJI The daily household goods of Japan
Taking a look at the history of daily household goods in Japan, it is clear that time brings change. Goods and utensils evolve as the functions required of them and the materials they are made from are altered or replaced.
Items that were commonplace in homes and shops in bygone days, but had gradually fallen into disuse, may today appear surprisingly fresh and suitable for use.
In this issue of Found MUJI, we consider what makes for a good utensil or household item, while also learning a little about the historical background of each item.
This glass cup holds one serving of ichi-go (180ml) sake. Most working-class pubs in Japan have long served sake in glass cups, but in the 1960s, a new way of buying sake, packaged in glass cups at stores, appeared. These cups were also sold at station kiosks and in vending machines, conceived as a product that would enable a new style of drinking, like fast food today, where sake could be easily consumed anywhere.
The one-serving glass sake cup is still in use today, but production continues to decline year by year. We hope that these glass containers, which can easily be put to other uses after drinking the sake, will live on into the future.
Fast forward to today, and now we have convenient items and tools to hand, such as packets of soup stock, fruit juicers, and coffee makers. With the influence of global food culture and the evolution of cooking appliances, the scope of Japanese home cooking has expanded and cooking utensils have become increasingly diverse. However, if you have some koshi-bukuro of varying degrees of coarseness, you will find that you can do the basics in the kitchen and also save space. You might say that kitchen work, which once used to take a lot of effort and be a little inconvenient, has come full circle and now resonates with our everyday lives.
Originally used for washing the face, bathing, and covering the head, the original material for tenugui hand towels was hemp, but as cotton became more readily available, these towels were made in cotton-producing regions. What were originally bleached white fabrics came to be dyed and incorporated various patterns, so they were less likely to show dirt. Today, tenugui have mostly been replaced by conventional towels for bathing and face washing, but beyond practical use their popularity has grown widely as souvenirs and mementos. Nonetheless, they are still used in various scenes in daily life as a kind of handy, multi-purpose cloth.
Liquor stores and milk stores both used to have systems in place to collect and reuse empty glass bottles. From the mid-1950s onwards, commercial-use bottles moved from glass to plastic, and the glass ones gradually disappeared. Today, however, reusable glass is being re-evaluated as part of sustainability initiatives around the world, with momentum growing to abolish plastic containers and get back to using glass bottles.
This bowl has a lip on one side for pouring liquids. In addition to ceramic versions, it is also possible to find the same style in lacquerware or metal. At stores selling sake and soy sauce, it was also used as a measuring cup, being made in different sizes of 1 or 2 go (180ml or 360ml). It is still popular as service-ware for meals, but it can be more useful depending on what you need it for.
Those with a longer lip and a sleek shape for pouring can also be used as a sake carafe or for drip brewing coffee. If you are using it mainly as service-ware, then a shorter lip is better, and the best shape is one with a circumference and depth that make it more bowl-like and easier for serving food. It can be fun to choose the shape you want.
The zabuton floor cushion can still be seen today in traditional ryokan inns and Japanese-style restaurants, as well as in other tatami rooms. However, as fewer homes have tatami rooms these days, so too has use of these cushions declined.
The characters for zabuton literally mean “a mattress (futon) for sitting on” and like futons, they have been made of various materials such as linen, silk, and cotton, depending on the season and purpose. In addition, as housing styles have changed, the variation in sizes has increased to match the size of the space to be used and the intended purpose. There are various types depending on use, such as the meisenban, known colloquially as “social housing size,” the larger meotoban, which is the cushion of choice for rakugo comic storytellers, and the compact chasekiban, which is comfortable when kneeling formally on the floor at a tea ceremony where many people gather. Zabuton cushions can be stacked in the corner of a room to save space until they need to be laid out to accommodate large numbers of visitors. They can also be lined up to make a small mattress perfect for taking a quick nap, and small ones can be used as a chair cushions. They can be adapted to all scenarios in modern-day living.
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