If you go farther back in history, Brianza was originally a poor area, where farmers diligently tilled the soil and lived simple lives. It must have been like the life of the kindly old couple who discovers Momotaro floating down the river in the famous Japanese folktale—with grandpa out in the forest cutting firewood and grandma washing clothes. Of course in Brianza, the giant peach from the story didn’t come bobbing down the river while grandma was on the bank washing clothes.
What shifted the destiny of Brianza wasn’t a hero named Momotaro born from a peach, but Napoleon becoming king of Italy. The story goes that a French colonel serving Napoleon in Milan was an astounding 203 centimeters tall. His height was so intimidating that he instilled fear in his enemies—and while this certainly made it easy for him to excel at his duties, it also caused problems for the colonel. Specifically, there were no beds long enough for him, so he could never sleep comfortably.
Just when he was at his wits’ end, he heard that a “liberty tree,” considered a symbol of the French Revolution, had been planted in Brianza. He explained his predicament to a furnituremaker there with an outstanding reputation. The craftsman responded by making the colonel a special bed out of the tree, putting Brianza furniture-making on the map. Word of the amazing bed quickly spread across the land, launching furniture-making as an industry throughout the region.
Before it got started in the furniture-making industry, Brianza had apparently tried to improve its economic situation through silks and fabrics, but these efforts ended in failure as the region was never able to match the pace of industrial expansion in Milan and other nearby cities. Furniture, however, played a huge role in vitalizing the towns of Brianza, with the entire district going all-out to push the industry towards success.
I passed through Brianza when I first came to Milan 25 years ago, and although I didn’t know its history at that time, I did notice that there were quite a lot of furniture shops there. Antique furniture that highlights its Italian origin also sells well in Japan, so perhaps you’ve even come across something that was made in Brianza before! Could there even be an antique Brianza piece in my own house? A special bed like the one made for the ambassador, even?