Japan: 1750-2000

A History of the Decorative Arts and Design 1400 - 2000

These two 9,000 word chapters on design in Japan c.1750-2000 were commissioned by the Bard Graduate Center’s comparative history of global design and decorative arts, a flagship initiative authored by recognised area experts and published by Yale University Press. The book’s remit offered an opportunity not only to recontextualise the history of Japanese design, but also to argue that design history must acknowledge economics, technology and social and political forces – not as background but as the key story, told through objects.

The first chapter analyses primary visual, textual and object sources such as ‘The Illustrated Compendium of Clever Machines’ (Kiko zui, 1796) to demonstrate how eighteenth-century political systems and their regulations on movement and consumption created both status-specific categories of goods and a market economy that would ultimately challenge those systems in the mid-nineteenth century. The second chapter similarly works from primary sources – eg. government reports, prototypes, oral histories – to show how design in twentieth-century Japan was a local phenomenon that also reflected global conditions and tendencies in trade, manufacturing and education.

The chapters preview the argument for Teasley’s forthcoming monograph, ‘Designing Modern Japan’ (Reaktion, 2014) and draw on research at public, university and corporate archives including the collections at Musashino Art University, at which Teasley had a research fellowship in 2009.

Teasley’s project to provide a English-language history of modern Japan through its design industries has received funding from the Association of Asian Studies, the Design History Society, the Sasakawa Foundation and the British Academy. It has generated lecture and writing invitations in Europe, North America and Japan, including requests to serve as respondent to panels on Asian design history at the College Art Association (2009, 2011) and Association of Asian Studies (2012), and to author the Japanese entries for reference texts including the ‘Encyclopedia of Design’ (Berg, 2015).