Meiji era home decor

Meiji Era Home Décor: Blend of Tradition and Modernity

The Meiji Era marks a unique period in Japanese history, stretching from 1868 to 1912. This era is renowned for its cultural transformation, as Japan rapidly modernised and integrated Western influences into various aspects of daily life, including home décor. Before this period, Japanese interiors were strictly traditional, featuring minimalist designs and natural materials. The arrival of Western culture introduced new styles and furnishings, leading to a fascinating blend of East and West.

In the domain of home décor, the Meiji Era represents a significant shift from purely traditional Japanese elements to an eclectic mix of Western and Japanese styles. Homes began to incorporate Western-style sofas, curtains, and carpets, while retaining traditional items like tatami mats and futons. This blend created spaces that were both functional and aesthetically pleasing, merging comfort with tradition.

Introduction to Meiji Era Soft Furnishings

Historical Context

The Meiji Era, stretching from 1868 to 1912, was a time of significant change in Japan. This period marked the country's rapid modernisation and Westernisation after centuries of isolation under the Tokugawa shogunate. The Meiji government actively pursued policies to learn from the West, inviting foreign experts and sending Japanese students abroad. This cultural exchange profoundly impacted various aspects of Japanese life, including home décor.

Western culture started influencing Japanese interiors, leading to an eclectic blend of styles. Traditional Japanese homes began incorporating elements like Western furniture, fabrics, and designs, creating unique and harmonious living spaces. This fusion form of décor maintained traditional aesthetics while embracing new, practical Western influences.

Significance in Home Décor

During the Meiji Era, home décor transitioned from traditional Japanese to a blend incorporating Western elements. The integration of Western furnishings into Japanese homes was a significant shift, marking a cultural evolution. Traditional Japanese interiors were minimalist, focusing on natural materials like wood, paper, and straw. These elements provided simplicity and functionality.

However, as Western influences grew, Japanese homes began incorporating upholstered furniture, curtains, and carpets. These new elements brought comfort and a different kind of aesthetic appeal, merging the clean lines and natural materials of Japanese design with the ornate details and rich textures of Western décor. This blend of styles created living spaces that were both modern and deeply connected to Japanese heritage.

Traditional Japanese Soft Furnishings

Tatami Mats

Tatami mats are a quintessential element of traditional Japanese interiors. They are thick, woven mats made from rice straw, providing a soft yet firm surface for sitting, sleeping, and walking. Tatami mats are versatile and often used to cover the entire floor of a room, creating a cohesive, natural look. The mats are modular, allowing for flexible room arrangements.

In living spaces, tatami mats play a crucial role in defining the room's functions. They offer a comfortable and natural surface suitable for a variety of activities, from casual seating to formal tea ceremonies. The use of tatami mats highlights the traditional Japanese emphasis on simplicity and natural materials.

Zabuton (Floor Cushions)

Zabuton cushions are another staple of traditional Japanese furnishings. These square, flat cushions are filled with cotton or other soft materials and used for sitting on the floor. Zabuton are essential in traditional seating arrangements, providing comfort and support during long periods of sitting.

In Japanese culture, zabuton are often used with low tables or in tea rooms, creating a relaxed and welcoming atmosphere. The cushions come in various sizes and patterns, allowing for personalisation and aesthetic versatility. Zabuton can be easily moved and stored, making them a practical choice for multi-functional living spaces.


Futons are an integral part of traditional Japanese bedrooms. Unlike Western beds, which are often bulky and permanent fixtures, futons consist of a thin, foldable mattress and a quilted cover. They are laid directly on tatami mats and rolled up and stored away during the day. This practice allows the room to serve multiple purposes, from sleeping to socialising.

Traditional futons offer flexibility and convenience, aligning with the Japanese philosophy of efficient use of space. While modern versions often include thicker mattresses and additional padding, traditional futons continue to be favoured for their simplicity and comfort. They are a testament to the enduring appeal of functional, adaptable design in Japanese homes.

Western Influences on Soft Furnishings

Upholstered Furniture

During the Meiji Era, the introduction of Western-style sofas and chairs marked a significant shift in Japanese home décor. Upholstered furniture was a new concept, as traditional Japanese interiors typically featured tatami mats and floor cushions for seating. Western-style sofas and chairs brought a new level of comfort and sophistication to Japanese homes.

Adaptation of this furniture style involved integrating plush seating options that complemented existing Japanese elements. People started placing these sofas and chairs in living rooms, adding both luxury and convenience. The combination of traditional Japanese items with these new Western pieces created an eclectic yet harmonious living space.

Curtains and Draperies

Another noticeable change in the Meiji Era was the shift from traditional shoji screens to Western fabric curtains. Shoji screens, made from wood and translucent paper, had long been used to divide spaces and diffuse light. However, Western curtains and draperies offered more versatility in terms of materials, colours, and patterns.

Curtains added a touch of elegance and warmth to Japanese interiors. They were not just functional for privacy and light control but also contributed to the overall aesthetic appeal. The transition to fabric curtains allowed for greater personalisation and style in home décor, blending seamlessly with traditional elements like tatami mats and wooden furniture.

Carpets and Rugs

The integration of Western-style carpets and rugs into Japanese homes was another hallmark of the Meiji Era. Before this period, floors were usually covered with tatami mats. While tatami provided a soft surface, Western carpets and rugs introduced a different layer of comfort and visual texture.

These carpets often featured intricate designs and vibrant colours, contrasting beautifully with the more subdued and natural tones of traditional Japanese décor. Placing a Western rug over tatami mats or wooden floors became a common practice, adding warmth and a splash of colour to the room. This blending of floor coverings exemplified the harmonious mix of East and West that defined Meiji Era interiors.

Practical Tips for Incorporating Meiji Era Soft Furnishings

DIY Projects

Incorporating Meiji Era soft furnishings into your home can start with simple DIY projects. Making zabuton and futon covers is a great way to infuse traditional Japanese elements into your decor. For zabuton covers, choose traditional fabrics like cotton or silk, and sew simple square covers that fit your cushions. You can add traditional Japanese patterns for an authentic touch.

Creating futon covers involves similar steps but on a larger scale. Opt for breathable materials and traditional patterns to maintain that Meiji Era vibe. Customising these covers allows you to blend traditional Japanese elements with your existing décor seamlessly.

Shopping Guide

Finding authentic or inspired Meiji Era soft furnishings can be an exciting journey. Start with specialised home décor stores that focus on Japanese or Asian designs. Many online retailers also offer a wide selection of items that capture the essence of Meiji Era décor. Look for shops that provide detailed descriptions and pictures to ensure authenticity.

When shopping, focus on high-quality materials like cotton, silk, and natural fibres. These were commonly used during the Meiji Era and will help you achieve an authentic look. Additionally, keep an eye out for items that feature traditional Japanese patterns or designs, as these will contribute to the overall aesthetic of your space.


Incorporating Meiji Era décor into your home offers a unique blend of traditional Japanese elegance and Western comfort. This style reflects a pivotal period in Japanese history, where cultural exchange led to innovative and harmonious interior designs. By combining elements like tatami mats, zabuton, and futons with Western-style upholstered furniture and fabric curtains, you can create a space that is both historical and modern.

Exploring these design choices allows you to personalise your home while paying homage to an era of significant cultural evolution. Whether through DIY projects or carefully selected purchases, incorporating Meiji Era furnishings can transform your living space into a serene and stylish retreat. At Sisu Essence, we aim to enrich your home and garden with essentials that inspire the soul. Start exploring our home decor collection today and bring a touch of the Meiji Era into your home.

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