Was "Asian" style a thing for women of a certain generation?

Note the word “Asian” in quotes.

I used to frequent estate sales quite a bit. One thing I noticed at a lot of sales; a preponderance of I can only describe as “Orientalia”. Lacquered Asian-style furniture, Asian-style decorative vases, Asian-style artwork, Asian-style room dividers, and closets full of Asian-style robes. (EDIT: this is in the United States.)

This weekend, when I went back to my hometown to run a few errands and visit some friends, I checked out a couple of estate sales for the hell of it, and found houses full of the usual Orientalia.

“Maybe they were Asian?”, you’ll say. Likely not. I’ve seen the Orientalia quite a bit in blue collar suburbs where few Asian immigrants live. There’s other items that are distinctly non-Asian - old bowling trophies with ethnic European names, Judaica or Catholic paraphernalia, old LPs of bands that all have “and His Orchestra” in their names, and the like. I also encounter Orientalia in far greater proportion to the Asian population of the region. This isn’t California, but rather, a metropolitan area in the Rust Belt.

So, was a kind of kitschy Asian/Oriental style ever the rage during the 1950s or 1960s?

This kind of decoration was associated with the Mah Jongg fad that was big in the US in the 1920s ( and which lasted into the 50s in places like Long Island, I think)

There is a store in Kansas City called Asiatica that has been around since 1977, that is exactly what you describe.

What you’re looking at are examples of these two artistic trends:

They go back a long way in Western culture.

Wasn’t there a growing interest in eastern religion and culture during the late '60s and early '70s? The only example I can think of is The Beatles and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but I feel like I’ve read about Asian influences in western counterculture before. I could see how those styles would trickle down to the mainstream after a while.

I think it has to do with lower class people aspiring to be worldly, i.e.* La Fawnduh* and* Rex Quon Doh*.

I don’t think this trend went completely away. There’s a store in my local mall that only sells Asian-style furnishings: lacquered furniture, room dividers, the vases. I’ve never seen anyone go in there but they must pay the rent somehow every month, and God knows there aren’t any actual Asians around here buying it.

There’s also a store devoted solely to “Native American” arts so you can get your fix of turquoise jewelry and dreamcatchers to hang above your low Japanese table while eating Sbarro carry out.

Some of those “lower class” people may have had military careers. Couples stationed in Japan, Okinawa, etc., often picked up quite a bit of furniture, decorative items & even those embroidered robes. I inherited quite a bit from an uncle & aunt who never had kids; he liked to travel in his time off & she liked to shop. The collection also included camel saddles from their time in North Africa & some items from the years in Germany…

The long taste for Chinoiserie & Japanoiserie was hardly limited to the lower classes.

Good lord, yes - in the late 1800’s Europeans valued fine Japanese and Chinese art and furniture. And cutting edge artists like Van Gogh collected Japanese woodblock prints and painted copies - kinda the equivalent of a modern Western artist using manga to get ideas for their art…

A fascination with the Far East has been around for centuries…

I knew there was a popular culture example I was forgetting - in “Auntie Mame” Mame has a lot of Asian decorations in her home.

There was an interest in China in the early 1970s when President Nixon went there. Don’t know if it extended to furniture but there were a lot more magazine articles and tv reports on acupuncture.

When I was in high school, I visited the home of a ‘rich’ classmate and it was decorated in an Asian motif, this was late 60’s. It’s just another decorating choice, goes in and out of style, like country, English chintz, modern steel and glass.

It’s very common for middle-class new-agey people to have a bit of a fetish for Asian motifs … like having a special room designed to feng shui principles with a rock garden, bonsai trees and scroll paintings, where they can do their tai chi every morning. :stuck_out_tongue:

1950’s Asian kitsch, an iconic example shown here.

My FIL worked most of his life in Asia, and shipped mountains of stuff back home to Detroit. Some of it quality, like his complete Mikasa dinnerware set. But heaps of silliness. Chinese junks in bottles, scroll painting diaramas in glass cases, green plastic “jade” elephants and fat children, a plastic “lacquer” jewelry box that plays “Sukiyaki” when opened. This was the Asia of the Godzilla and Chopsocky movies, a golden age (or at least an ormolu one).

Lots of people like the aesthetic. Japanese furniture and artwork, for example, tends to be clean, simple, and elegant with a warmth that is (IMHO) not generally found in the western “modern” styles.

Yeah, but so much of it was in the homes of tacky “wannabe jet-setters” who’d never left their area code. And it wasn’t “clean, simple, and elegant”; their need to look “cultured” somehow made it tacky.

I remember even as a kid (late 50s) thinking it was inadvertently hilarious when I’d walk into my piano teacher’s flimsy ranch house and it looked like a Gone To Seed Geisha lived there.

This. My uncle served in Korea in, I believe, the late 60s. He acquired a bunch of Asian stuff and sent it back to my grandmother and other family members. They’ve all still got it as far as I know.

My grandparents on my mother’s side had a bunch of Asian decorations. A couple statuettes of Japanese women in the traditional garb and make-up, some Japanese style painting complete with lettering along one side, some table statue that was sort of a 3D version of a painting in style, etc. They were Polish Catholics living in Chicago.

My grandfather never served in the military, much less during WWII. I’ve no idea where the affection for the theme came from and just assumed it was a ‘thing’ for his generation. He would have been born around 1920ish or a little before.

There does seem to have been a string of high profile, blockbuster hit movies during the 1956-1961 period that showcase Far East decor and clothing styles, among them…

The King and I (1956)
Teahouse of the August Moon (1956)
Sayonara (1957)
South Pacific (1958)
The World of Suzie Wong (1960)
Flower Drum Song (1961)

…plus the aforementioned Auntie Mame (1958) and other films that sneak in some orientalia as a signifier of hipness. The plots of several of the above films involve the kind of US military personnel that Bridget Burke mentioned.

The Far East kept getting “discovered” over and over, and went through cycles of faddishness, as others have said.

I’d put the start in Britain in the 1840s, after the Opium Wars forced China’s trade open. A similar boom occurred in the U.S. in the 1850s after Perry “opened” Japan. Every family in New England seemed to have a relative on a trading ship that brought home goods. My wife inherited some beautiful vases from her grandmother - of course turned into lamps, which was standard.

It was mostly one-way until 1893, when the Japanese pavilion at the enormously influential 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition knocked people’s eyes out.

There were separate tracks for upper class and middle class goods, and for fine art and kitsch. But lots and lots of both.