Japanese smoothing iron, steel / wood, maker unknown, Japan, 1875-1892
This object is one of a collection of Japanese domestic utensils, agricultural implements and tools were acquired by the Museum in 1892.
Many of the tools in this collection are pre-Meiji era (1868-1912). When Japan reopened its doors to the outside world in the middle of the 19th century, it was stagnating under a feudal system, which had divided society into four distinct castes: warriors, farmers, artisans and tradesman. At this time, Japan was an agrarian state. Approximately 80% of the population were engaged in agriculture with 65% of the national income derived from the agricultural sector. These tools have no distinguishing features or trademarks which can tell us where they were manufactured.
In 1868, with the restoration of Imperial rule, Emperor Meiji issued an order establishing a new officialdom and proclaimed the direct rule of the throne in every line of national government. He issued a five-point oath, placing emphasis on respecting public opinion, developing relations with foreign countries and seeking knowledge far and wide. The opening of the country saw an influx of traders and merchants who brought Japanese goods and products back to western countries, such as Australia. This collection was purchased from a Mr C. J. T. Browne in 1892 who owned a Japanese Curios and Oriental Art Fabrics store in Sydney.
The collection has social and historical significance as it contains objects which are no longer used in contemporary Japanese society. It reflects the diversity of objects which came to Western countries when Japan was officially opened to foreigners. The objects also reveal social changes in society and the craze for all things oriental in the late 1880s.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan in Transition: One hundred years of Modernization (Japan, 1975).
Kobe History, accessed 31 May 2011 from,
Kiri Gimlet, Takenaka Carpentry Tools Museum, accessed 14 April 2011, from
Toshio Odate, Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their tradition, Spirit and Use, (Newtown: Tauton Press, 1984).
Dr Olivier Ansart, University of Sydney Department of Japanese Studies, e-mail message to author, April 12, 2011.