How to Care for a Japanese Tansu
Japanese tansu are unique pieces of wooden cabinetry that add a special touch to any home. Their distinctive design originated 400 years ago during the Edo Period in Japan when they were used as storage containers. Although the typical tansu is similar to a chest of drawers, the step tansu, resembling a flight of stairs leading upwards, is also a common version. Today contemporary tansu constructed from cedar, cypress and chestnut wood are becoming more widely incorporated in modern home decoration. Because the tansu is a unique piece that may be hard to replace, it is important to take care of it accordingly so that it remains beautiful for years.
Determine the type of finish on the wood of your tansu. Gently rub a few drops of boiled linseed oil into the surface of the wood. If the wood absorbs the oil, your tansu has an oil finish. If the oil forms droplets that do not sink into the wood, your tansu has a hard finish.
Position tansu away from direct sunlight, heat, air vents and humidity, as these elements may dry out the wood, cause the surface color to fade, or cause the wood to expand and warp. Use a dehumidifier often to prevent the wood from absorbing moisture.
Dust the tansu to avoid dirt build up weekly.
Wash the surface of tansu annually with a damp washcloth soaked in a mild furniture soap and water solution. Rinse the soapy surface with a damp washcloth and pat it dry with lint free cloths.
Polish the tansu with a homemade solution that is two parts boiled linseed oil and one part gum turpentine. Rub the oily solution into the wood until it is absorbed and dry. Apply the polish every 4 to 8 weeks.
Polish a hard finish tansu using your choice of commercial wood polish. Select the polish according to how shiny you would like the wood to be.
- Tansu: Traditional Japanese Cabinetry. Ty Heineken. 2004
- Never place objects on the tansu without a protective layer on the bottom. This practice will prevent scratches and water stains on the surface.
- Hardware on the tansu can be polished with a sterling silver cloth. Never apply hardware cleaners directly to the wood as it may stain or bleach the surface.
- If your tansu has extensive lacquer or wood damage due to age, insects, or temperature, seek out a professional to restore the luster of your piece.
Currently based in Japan, Mary Richardson is a travel writer and enthusiast. She formerly taught undergraduate academic writing classes for nine years at San Diego State University, where she also received a Masters of Arts in linguistics. She was also a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa.