『民藝の100年』東京国立近代美術館 “100 Years of Mingei: The Folk Crafts Movement” The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo


Although it was almost over, I went to the “100 Years of Mingei” exhibition being held at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. I would like to summarize the exhibition report.


I went there on weekdays, but there were some people in there, and I could see the high degree of attention. In addition, the number of exhibitions was large and it was very spectacular, and it was a satisfying exhibition.

民藝とは?What is Mingei?


“Mingei” is a word that we are now familiar with when we are in Japan. To be exact, it is an abbreviation for “People’s Crafts”. It refers to living tools made for the lives of the people, made by unnamed craftsmen. There is the beauty of handicrafts there. The “Mingei Movement” aims to enrich the lives of individuals by seeing, using, and loving the beautiful things, and to enrich the society by expanding them.


The following three people created this new concept of beauty called Mingei.

  • 柳 宗悦(1889-1961) Muneyoshi Yanagi
  • 濱田 庄司(1894-1978) Shoji Hamada
  • 河井 寛次郎(1890-1966) Kanjiro Kawai


It is said that the idea of Mingei developed into a big cultural movement by getting supporters and supporters from all over Japan and connecting with them.

時代背景 Background of the times


Why did they coin the word “Mingei” and carry out the “Mingei Movement”?


In the 1920s, Japan was heavily influenced by the West and was in the midst of modernization. The 1920s is almost 100 years ago, the Taisho era. The life of Japanese people is completely different from what it is now.

1920s (Taisho era)
Present age (2022)
選挙権が満25歳以上 男子のみ
Only boys over 25 years old
All citizens over 18 years old
Clothes were a mixture of Japanese and Western styles
Western clothing style is mainstream
和食中心 洋食は贅沢品
Mainly Japanese food, Western food was a luxury item
Western dishes including Japanese dishes are also common
No home appliances yet
Enhancement of home appliances


It was an era when Western things came into the lives of Japanese people, and the rich people called Kazoku were the first to take in Western things. In Japan, the class society still persisted. For the common people, Western things were still luxury goods, but as a country, they were steadily promoting westernization.


It was an era when trade was flourishing and Western stuff came in. In addition, with the spread of cheap industrial products along with modernization, local industries in various regions were facing a crisis of survival. All over the country, the customs and cultures traditionally practiced in Japan were being lost.


The founders, Soetsu Yanagi, were in the midst of a rapidly changing era, despite being a generation who was awakened to modern times by being exposed to Western information. They tried to re-examine the Japanese handicrafts that were lost or overlooked with a sense of crisis.

民藝運動 Mingei Movement


What the Mingei movement actually did was displayed in an easy-to-understand manner at this exhibition.

日本全国への旅 Travel to all over Japan


This exhibition shows the enormous work of Mineyoshi Yanagi.


Mineyoshi Yanagi traveled all over Japan to investigate the “Mingei” of the land. There he buys and collects wonderful folk crafts when he encounters them. At that time, Japan from the Taisho era to the early Showa era had a well-developed transportation network centered on railways, and it was a travel boom. Due to the flow of people, the nature and culture of the region has also been the target of consumption.


As a result, the Mingei movement has become even more sympathetic and is said to have gained understanding.


Some of the “folk crafts” rooted in the climate and lifestyle of the area could not be understood without an explanation of how to use them. However, there was a straight handicraft “beauty” created for the user. Many of the exhibits are unfamiliar, and it was interesting to see them while imagining how to use them. And the product of the wisdom of life produced in that land may be useful in other places as well.


I think it was not easy for people who were born in that land and continue to live in that land until they die, to accept Muneyoshi Yanagi from outside.


The kettle on the leaflet of the exhibition is from Yamagata prefecture called “Habiro Tetsubin”, and it is said that it was used when boiling water mainly in cold regions. It has a shape that fits perfectly on the table, and heat is efficiently transferred from below. The handle is thick and easy to grip. The inside of the handle is hollow, and in addition to avoiding heat when holding it, it is designed for weight reduction.


People living in the snowy country set fire with firewood and spent time drinking tea and working near the fire. It can be inferred that this iron kettle was an indispensable tool in daily life.


Similarly, “straw” in Yamagata Prefecture is a shoe for walking on the snow. Rice straw after removing rice grains is used, and it is made by knitting by hand. I thought that shoes that were carefully woven to the smallest detail were a very beautiful job.


It is said that this shoe was made and sold in winter when agricultural products cannot be produced in the rice-growing area.

出版・美術館 Publishing / Museum


And Muneyoshi Yanagi didn’t just look up and collect it as a personal collection.


To spread it, they made magazines and held exhibitions to spread it.

出版 Publishing

First issue of “Shirakaba” (end of 1923)
1931『工藝』創刊 First issue of “Kogei”
1939『月刊民藝』創刊 First issue of “Monthly Mingei”
Published “Handicraft Japan”
Published “The Homon of Beauty” (private edition)

雑誌『工芸』は、装幀は芹沢銈介が手がけるなど、こちらも実際に展示してあり、熱意や徹底的なこだわりを感じました。出版に際しての小間絵のスケッチ(河井寛次郎・芹沢銈介 筆)も展示されており、下書き無しで筆でささっと書かれたような絵が筆使いが特に素晴らしく印象的でした。

参考:芹沢銈介作品 (旧工芸館にて展示)Reference: Works by Keisuke Serizawa (exhibited at the former Crafts Museum)

The magazine “Kogei” was actually exhibited, such as the book design by Keisuke Serizawa, and I felt enthusiasm and thorough commitment. The sketches of the booth paintings (written by Kanjiro Kawai and Keisuke Serizawa) at the time of publication were also exhibited, and the paintings that seemed to be written quickly with a brush without drafts were particularly impressive.

美術館・展覧会 Museum / Exhibition

1924ソウルに朝鮮民族美術館 開設
Opened Korean Folk Museum in Seoul
Exhibited at “Folk Crafts Museum” at the Memorial Domestic Promotion Tokyo Expo
1931日本民藝美術館 (浜松) 開館
Japan Folk Crafts Museum (Hamamatsu) opened
1934現代日本民藝展覧会 開催
Contemporary Japanese Folk Art Exhibition Held
1936日本民藝館 開館
Japan Folk Crafts Museum opened
1941日本民藝館にてアイヌ工藝文化展 開催
Ainu Craft Culture Exhibition held at Japan Folk Crafts Museum
1961(柳宗悦 死去)(Muneyoshi Yanagi died)
1970日本万国博覧会 「日本民藝館」出展
Exhibited at “Japan Folk Crafts Museum” at the Japan World Exposition


The Japan Folk Crafts Museum, which opened in 1936, still allows you to see folk craft exhibits.


Just by looking at the chronology, you can see the considerable amount of work done by Muneyoshi Yanagi. However, it was an era when social movements were fierce. It was an era when various things happened other than the Great Kanto Earthquake, the Sino-Japanese War, the Pacific War, the Korean War, the Tokyo Olympics and the war.


At the same time that those who questioned the excessive modernization were more motivated to review the things of their own country, their interest in local “local art” also expanded.

流通・デザイン Distribution and design


In order not to lose this important folk craft, it is said that the sales and distribution network was secured and spread. In particular, he seems to have created a route from rural areas to urban areas.

販売店の開店 Opening of a store

1932鳥取に「たくみ工藝店」開店 Opened “Takumi Crafts Shop” in Tottori
1933東京に「たくみ工藝店東京支店」開店 Opened “Takumi Crafts Shop Tokyo Branch” in Tokyo
1962鳥取に「たくみ割烹店」開店 “Takumi Kappo” opened in Tottori


In addition to the existing ones, Muneyoshi Yanagi himself designs, makes and sells it so that the goodness of the craftsman’s technique can be conveyed. The 1960s and 70s are also known as the Mingei boom.


The extraordinary passion for Mingei Yanagi and the heavy workload of the producer industry can be glimpsed from the numerous exhibits. It is published in English in order to cause the Mingei boom and to convey the charm of Mingei not only in Japan but also in the world.

黒田 辰秋 Tatsuaki Kuroda


Among the main members of the Mingei movement is Tatsuaki Kuroda (1904-82), a wood lacquer craftsman.


In fact, what I was most looking forward to at this Mingei exhibition was that I could see Tatsuaki Kuroda’s work. Only the desk of Muneyoshi Yanagi in this exhibition was able to take pictures.


The desk was a work of Tatsuaki Kuroda, and it was a beautiful and sophisticated desk with a large wiping lacquer (Fuki-urushi).


Tatsuaki Kuroda has been introduced in past posts, so please read it if you are interested.


The Taisho Showa period was a time of war. The values of things are completely different from the present. It has been 100 years since the Mingei movement, the achievement of the enormous work left by a person named Muneyoshi Yanagi. It may have been a milestone year of reexamining the value of things that human beings create in the present age when AI is advancing from modernization to the advancement of technology.


The background of the times, people’s living standards, and information networks differ greatly between the times of Muneyoshi Yanagi and the present. And I thought that things that move people’s hearts even after 100 years are still things that can be done by human hands.


However, in modern times, even the values of having things have changed. Creating new things is an environmental problem in itself. It is an era when environmentally friendly manufacturing is required. In the past, I used to make more and more new things and spend money to buy things, but now I think that I spend a lot of money to buy time and experiences.


I think that folk crafts in the old days were living tools that supported the lives of people living with nature. And all the old people lived by moving their bodies and moving their hands. Unlike modern people, people in the old days were more dexterous and more vigorous than modern people (depending on the person). Even if it is a matter of course for those who live there, there is “beauty of use” there. Just as Soetsu Yanagi moved to the Mingei movement with a sense of crisis in modernization, it may be a “value of beauty” that is still necessary today.


Craftsmanship is not something that can be done immediately, but it is the accumulation of careful daily work. It seems to be a matter of course, but it cannot be done by a matter of course. It looks easy and is not easy. Things created by that precious time may not be noticed until they are gone. It surely feels the same for anything.


Each person has different values of beauty, but I think that what is important is the rich time for the user, which is created by what seems to be beautiful. It was an exhibition that made me think about various things.


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