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Discover beauty hidden in household goods: 'Mingei' folk crafts exhibition to open in Tokyo

Straw boots, c. 1940, Yamagata Prefecture, The Japan Folk Crafts Museum.=Click/tap photo for more images.

TOKYO -- The "mingei" folk crafts movement "began with the discovery of the beauty hidden in everyday household objects," says Hisaho Hanai, chief researcher at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and head of an exhibition commemorating the 60th anniversary of the death of mingei movement leader Yanagi Muneyoshi.

    "100 Years of Mingei: The Folk Crafts Movement" starts Oct. 26 and features more than 450 items in what is a large-scale project also timed to coincide approximately with the 100th anniversary of the birth of the term mingei.

    The Mainichi Shimbun interviewed Hanai about the exhibition's highlights and notable works.

    Daikoku-shaped jizaikake (fixture for adjustable pothook), Edo period, 19th century, Hokuriku region, The Japan Folk Crafts Museum. =Click/tap photo for more images.

    Mainichi: What is the exhibition's aim?

    Hanai: The mingei folk craft movement popularized by Yanagi Muneyoshi (1889-1961), also known as Yanagi Soetsu, and his contemporaries began with the discovery of the beauty hidden in everyday household objects. Rather than just collecting household utensils from the past, they worked with local artisans to create a system for making items that fit the times, in order to preserve handicrafts being lost in the modernization process. With it now being about 100 years since Yanagi and his contemporaries coined the term mingei, the exhibition is divided into six chapters on a timeline that provides a comprehensive overview of actual activities from collection, publication, production and distribution.

    Mainichi: What is meant by the exhibition's tagline, "Local and Modern"?

    Hanai: Yanagi and his contemporaries were of a generation able to take in Western culture in real time, including through direct correspondence with the famous French sculptor Rodin. With the knowledge of what "modern" meant, they began actively reevaluating indigenous tools for daily life in Japan. They shed light on "pre-modern" handicrafts rooted in places, and used very "modern" methods such as "museums," "publishing," and "select stores" to promote them.

    Mainichi: Are there any pieces on show you particularly recommend?

    Hanai: The first work I would recommend is a piece of art in which Yanagi used Tanba cloth as a mounting material for 'Otsu-e' paintings, which were sold in Edo period (1603-1867) Otsu (in Shiga Prefecture) as souvenirs for travelers. Tanba cloth is a simple, hand-woven fabric dyed with vegetables, produced in Hyogo Prefecture and used mainly in the Kyoto and Osaka areas for bedding. Through a combination of inexpensive and common items, it has been made into a very sophisticated and stylish hanging scroll.

    Hisaho Hanai, chief researcher, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. (Courtesy of the museum)

    Next are "jizaikake" fixtures once used at firesides in rural homes. They were a folk tool for hanging pots, but the modernization of houses put them out of use. However, when you reevaluate them as a formed object, it has a mysterious charm and strong presence.

    Another is straw boots. Yanagi and his peers, who appreciated the snowy regions' handiwork, arranged these straw boots into indoor slippers, proposing a way of making goods that meet the demands of urban people.

    All of the items were selected based on the mingei concept of preserving the pre-modern "ecosystem of techniques" in a "living form." It can be said that this is a way of protecting cultural properties that does not necessarily adhere to the "original."


    "100 Years of Mingei: The Folk Crafts Movement" will be held at the The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo in Chiyoda Ward from Oct. 26, 2021 to Feb. 13, 2022. The exhibition is organized by the museum, The Mainichi Newspapers Co., and other organizations, and is closed on Mondays (open on Jan. 10, 2022), during the year-end and New Year holidays, and on Jan. 11, 2022. The opening hours are 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (until 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays). The admission fee is 1,800 yen for adults, 1,200 yen for university students, 700 yen for high school students, and free for those with a disability certificate and one accompanying person, and junior high school students and younger. For inquiries or more information about the exhibition, please call 050-5541-8600 or go to the official website at

    (Japanese original by Ichiro Ito, Tokyo City News Department)

    In Photos: Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art to showcase century-old 'mingei' folk crafts

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