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Mingei: The folk craft tradition

Mingei, the Japanese folk art movement, was developed in the late 1920s and 1930s in Japan. Its founding father is Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961).

In 1916, Yanagi made his first trip to Korea out of a curiosity of Korean crafts. The trip led to the establishment of the Korean Folk Crafts Museum in 1924, and the coining of the term mingei by Yanagi, potters Hamada Shoji (1894-1978) and Kawai Kanjiro (1890-1966). In 1926, the Folk Art Movement was formally declared by Yanagi Soetsu. Yanagi rescued lowly pots used by commoners in the Edo and Meiji period that were disappearing in rapidly urbanizing Japan. In 1936, Japanese Folk Crafts Museum was established.

Mingei's Philosophy

The philosophical pillar of Mingei is “hand-crafted art of ordinary people” [minshu-teki kogei]. Yanagi Soetsu discovered beauty in everyday ordinary and utilitarian objects created by nameless and unknown craftsmen. According to Yanagi, utilitarian objects made by the common people are “beyond beauty and ugliness”. Below are a few criteria of mingei art and crafts:
  • Made by anonymous crafts people.
  • Produced by hand in quantity.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Used by the masses.
  • Functional in daily life.
  • Representative of the regions in which they were produced.
Yanagi's book The Unknown Craftsman has become an influential work since its first release in English in 1972. Yanagi's book examines the Japanese way of viewing and appreciating art and beauty in everyday crafts, including ceramics, lacquer, textiles, and woodwork.

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