Designmuseum Danmark

Netsuke in Copenhagen

Last September I envisaged a trip to Copenhagen after talking with friends about their experiences in this wonderful city. Six months later I am snacking on rugbrød and drinking mint and lemongrass tea in a cafe overlooking 'Sortedams Sø' lake in the centre of the city. Then back on the bike cycling round the vibrant streets. It’s the most cycle friendly city I have ever been to and hiring bikes is the best way to immerse ourselves in the abundance of antique shops, cafes and galleries.

Boutique Taeko

On our way to Designmuseum Danmark we stumble upon 'Boutique Taeko', a tiny Japanese shop on Gothersgade street, stocked with traditional and modern pottery, bowls, cups and teapots. The owner, Taeko, is open and warm and wraps our bowls beautifully in cherry blossom wrapping paper with silver spotted ribbon. She recommends we make a visit to the Design Museum to see the current exhibition "Learning from Japan" which brings together a collection of Japanese and Danish design. We just happen to be heading that way so this is perfect synchronicity.

Learning from Japan - Designmuseum Danmark

Learning from Japan will present the Museum’s impressive Japanese collection alongside Japanese-inspired Danish arts and crafts, design, architecture and graphics.
— Designmuseum Danmark


We arrive at Designmuseum Danmark and I am hoping to find some netsuke. The entrance to the exhibition first takes us into the Klint* cafe looking out to the central museum garden. The sun is shining, a rarity, mid March in Copenhagen. Another door leads us to a bookshop and finally we step into a room full of glass cabinets. The walls are lined with Japanese woodblock prints of Japanese couples sharing tea, scenic views of nature, woodblock printed posters and paper cutouts.

Meanwhile, in the section devoted to architecture and interior decoration, visitors will see what an important role nature also played in this context. The similarity between Danish and Japanese applied art stems from both countries’ lack of domestic minerals, metals and fuels. Also, given that Japan is covered by rich forestland, wood has been a significant source for the design of houses and furniture
— Designmuseum Danmark

Glass cabinets are themed with wooden sculptures, woodblock prints by Hiroshige, pottery, fashion and textiles. A cabinet of fish, a cabinet of frogs, birds and turtles in many forms. Soon I find a glass cabinet with an array of ceramic and carved wooden animals and there huddled next to a startled wooden cat, (an incense burner) is a tiny wooden netsuke in the shape of a hare.


I continue weaving around the glass cabinets finding just two more wooden netsuke, "Sitting Man Modelling a Mask," and "Mask in the Shape of a Lion".


On a wall at the end of the room hangs “The Japanese Diary” by Lis Gram based on inspirations from Japan. An embroidered tapestry of woven fabric, plastic, paper, nylon and thread stretches from the ceiling to the floor and comes alive when you stand right up close. This is where "Learning from Japan" exhibition finishes and yet you know Japan continues its influence on Danish design as you walk through centuries of Fashion and Fabric, Danish Arts and Crafts from 1890 - 1910 and Design and Crafts from the 20th Century until you finally find yourself in the 21st Century standing in front of a bicycle made from bamboo. This is "Danish Design Now".

*Furniture designer, Kaare Klint, is a central figure in the history of Danish design and the restoration of the Designmuseum Denmark.