All that remains are the Kura (oldphotosjapan.com)
This is an image of an area of Osaka devastated by fire in 1909. What first stood out to me was the number of Kura (fire proof store houses) that withstood the fire. At this time wealth was measured in material goods. Any material goods that one wanted to keep safe were kept in Kura because historically there was no fire insurance. Fire has a huge influence on Japanese minimalist style and the importance of good storage containers like tansu.
When a fire was near you could close the heavy plaster doors of the kura and flee. After the fire had passed your home would be gone but your material wealth would remain.
Plaster Kura doors with wood winter door inside.
City view, Meiji era - notice all the kura storehouses in white.
Because of the nature of Japanese weather the houses needed to vent well to stay cool and free of mold in the hot humid summer. Fireproof stone and brick homes were a danger in earthquake prone Japan. You could run from a fire but not from an earthquake so a flammable well vented building style was chosen. Because of this anything left in the rooms were also likely to be lost in a fire. Fire proof buildings were created with thick plaster walls and small windows that could be closed in an emergency. But the fire proof buildings would not do their job if they were well vented, which created a problem with moisture. Inside the kura was much cooler than outside which created condensation. This condensation could rust swords, rot books and paintings and destroy clothes. The solution was to create storage containers that protected your goods from moisture. Tansu are the solution. The exterior could be lacquered to repel water on the exterior and the interior woods like Kiri absorbed ambient moisture within the drawer pulling it away from the contents.
Kura with small window and wood siding.
Kura with small windows with metal shutters.
The wood flashing is to protect against the weather.
Interior of kura with storage boxes for housewares
Interior of a kura
Plaster kura windows with metal mechanisms to close them from inside.
More photos and information about the Osaka fire can be seen at Old photos of Japan