Identify This

Night Shadows…Vintage Brass Karakusa Globe Lanterns


The items I get inquiries about all the time are my vintage Japanese filigree globe fixtures. The pierced brass scrolling arabesque pattern, known as karakusa, which appears everywhere in Japanese decorative arts, from porcelain to textiles and more, creates the most playful shadows on the ceilings and walls at night.

The largest of these globes that I have seen is this 18 inch diameter one now hanging in my Doha living room with its lovely high ceilings. It lived in a box in Tokyo as none of the rooms had ceilings high enough to accommodate it. That story can be found here.

doha living room

I’ve never been able to source the original maker and the fixtures themselves are unmarked but I would confidently date them to the post war period around 1950. Other dealers seem to make the same assumption, although I occasionally see them listed as 19th century or art deco, but that is incorrect. These modern fixtures take their cues from the ceremonial lanterns found at Japanese shrines and temples in terms of their pierced design work, but the round globes are a simplified modern form, quite different from those more ornate lantern shapes – often hexagonal or even octagonal. That said, I have sold a few hexagonal versions that take their cues more literally from the old shapes. No examples to show here as those lights are awaiting installation in clients’ homes, but I will share when they are ready. I don’t know if the globes were used as temple lamps or made for personal home use (I highly suspect the latter), but perhaps one of my readers will.

japanese temple lanterns

Over the last few years I have noticed them popping up all of a sudden on the internet, from Emily Henderson‘s LA shopping haul, where she found one identical to mine…

brass karakusa chandelier from emily henderson LA shopping

…and subsequently hung in the entry of her old house. I haven’t seen it anywhere in her new house so I am wondering what may have happened to it. You’ll notice that this globe is the same giant size as mine and she has had to semi-flush mount it, instead of hanging it from a chain, as the ceiling height is too low. It looks a bit awkward like that, don’t you think? Both of our fixtures have their original hanging cap and O-ring, but sometimes over the years those get lost.

emily henderson house brass karakusa fixture

Like me, Emily chose not to polish it much and kept the patina, unlike this highly shined one sold on Etsy. The seller used the horrible come-to-mean-anything-and-nothing terms ‘Hollywood Regency’ and ‘Moroccan Modern’ when this fixture is absolutely neither. You’ll notice this one still has its rice paper lining, unlike mine or Emily’s.

karakusa globe via a storied style

The fixture above seems to be a mid-size version (it’s listed as having a 14 inch diameter), but definitely made by the same maker. I’ve shown you my small size pair (9 inch diameter) that I found at a shrine sale before and now one hangs in our stairwell in Doha. You’ll notice how having the rice paper lining creates a completely different effect at night, casting no magical shadows but highlighting the detail of the pattern.

brass karakusa globe lantern pair resized

I can’t resist showing these two Katie Ridder rooms again either, as each uses a pierced brass globe to great effect in the bedroom. The one on the left has a floral pattern added to the scrolling vines.

Katie Ridder japanese pendant lamp in guest room ED0306 and girls room

There is a plethora of shapes and sizes available right now on 1st dibs, including this one from Downtown at Profiles identical to mine for a whopping $4200. They also have a midsize one available, and both have been fitted with triple bulbs as opposed to the usual single. Both are missing their original hanging caps and loops.

japanese brass globe lantern 1stdibs

Another 1stdibs dealer called Duo has a series of trios available (from $4200-$5800), including this 11.5 inch diameter group and this 9 inch diameter group. You’ll note they both have their original hanging caps and rings, although the latter are different in style. I find larger fixtures came with the more half-loop shaped style on the left and smaller fixtures have the upside down vee-shaped loop as on the right.

karakusa brass lamp trios

Duo also has this wild and unusual mismatched group, which includes a barrel-shaped fixture adorned with an imperial chrysanthemum and an egg-shaped one with ume (plum blossoms) in addition to the standard karakusa globe. I am fascinated that in the couple of days since I started writing this post and noticed these trios for sale, all three sets are on hold, so clearly a buyer is choosing between them or perhaps a designer is planning on using all of them for a commercial project.

trio of karakusa fixtures

Also worth looking at is this wacky three ball fixture with cracked ice and ume pattern here on Etsy, although it is sold. And if you are looking to buy a karakusa globe and your budget isn’t up for these prices, there is a lovely one available from Kodo Arts in Kyoto on Trocadero with its cap, hanging loop and rice paper intact for $1400. Or just drop me a comment or a note and I’ll add you to my waiting list 🙂

Related Posts:
Expat Decorating…Getting Lucky and Making Do
Katie Ridder, Eat Your Heart Out (Over My Latest Shrine Sale Find)

Identify This…Brass Drum Stool

While we are chatting about my recent brass finds, let’s look back at another cute vintage brass item sourced from a Tokyo area shrine sale. Remember this guy found here last spring?

Well, he is now cleaned up a bit and safely ensconced here in my living room, having become an extremely useful addition to our household, a perfect spot to rest a book or cup of tea and serving as extra seating in a party pinch.

This is a slightly different style of “Identify This” post as I am honestly the one looking for help figuring out the origins of this small brass stool or table. I had not seen one before mine, but this summer at Calypso Home in NYC they had a larger and brand new side table sized one in the shop. No one there had any insight into the history of its style.

I have only ever seen one featured in a home design spread.

(Addendum: On a funny note, it was only after I received the Katie Ridder book I wrote about in my last post that I realized I had just shown another photo featuring not one, but two of these stools in one of her interiors! There is a shiny brass one adjacent to each the chairs in the photo.)

So without much to go on, I dived in to my usual research sources…Currently, there are a few available on 1stdibs right now, including this one from Belvair

and this pair from lawson-fenning. Both are simply identified as 1960s vintage brass drum stools or tables and are priced at $325-365 each.

Adam Bram Straus just had one for sale in his Tastemaker Tag Sale on OKL too. It and the one directly above on the left look the most like mine, although mine is in better condition than either of them and none have the repeated concentric circles on the seat/tabletop.

Less expensive new ones, which honestly have inferiors lines, seem readily available, like this one from Cyan Design for $247.

They even come in other finishes, such as aged bronze or this fancy polished nickel from Arteriors, the most expensive of the bunch at $458 for the small size and over $1000 for the side table size.

But I haven’t been able to find any additional information, or even proof that these are 1960s designs. One source suggested they are Italian, another art deco, but I don’t see any evidence of either, other than the usual problem in which someone wrote it on the internet once, so now everyone quotes it like it is true. For my eye, they have a real campaign furniture look, but as they don’t actually fold up or disassemble easily, that is not it either.

So I open it to you my readers – any theories or clues on origin, time period or even additional photos of these in use? I’d love any ideas, speculative or fact-based….And most of all, I wonder how it ended up in Japan?

Identify This (Seven) Treasure…

Ironic, isn’t it? Japan is supposed to be the dangerous place to be, but in the days since I left New Jersey, the East Coast has had an earthquake and is now facing a major hurricane. To escape my Irene worries, I did the one thing that can take my mind off anything – I went to a shrine sale – and a fabulous one at that. It was an extremely hot and steamy day at Kawagoe today, but my favorite form of retail therapy did its magic. I have a proper post on the day coming, but in the meantime, I am throwing out a challenge to my readers. Can you guess what this object is?

The pattern is the well known shippou-tsunagi (seven treasures pattern), decorating Japanese textiles, porcelain, furniture and just about anything.

And while we are at it, in an incredibly modern form – digital furniture design – on this walnut desk by Laszlo Beckett. I have been drooling over this for a while!


But what do you use the object for?  Leave your guess in the comments. The correct answer wins a small prize! Here’s a hint of the prize to get your brain going…

Tokyo Jinja

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