Soetsu Yanagi examines a Korean pot, one year before his death. © Nihon Mingeikan, Tokyo, 1960 



with the support of Japan Airlines

The spirit of “Mingei” in Japan: folk art design

30th September 2008 – 11th January 2009

Temporary exhibition in the Garden Gallery

Exhibition curator: Germain VIATTE

Assistant curator: Akemi SHIRAHA


The exhibition curator's statement of intention

This exhibition is based on a specific case-that of the thinker Yanagi Soetsu, promoter of the “Mingei” movement, and his son, Yanagi Sori, who was a premier post-war  designer. The exhibition encourages the visitor to reflect on the relationship, established during the 20th century, between the rediscovery of certain traditional arts and international modern art through design.

This dynamic emerges from a strictly ethnographic and anthropological perception of traditional folk art. Accordingly, it can be inscribed within a specific historical context: that of Japan during the first half of the 20th century (until the end of the 1950’s). It also has to do with an aesthetic, moral and formal perspective that is echoed today by the “original forms” of certain contemporary designers.

« Mingei »

The word “Mingei” is an abbreviation for “minshuteki kogeï,” which means “folk art,” or “popular art, created by the people, for the people.”

A thinker and man of action, Yanagi Soetsu campaigned his entire life for the promotion of folk art. He did this through writings, most notably in the monthly publication, “Kogeï (which means “folk art”), through teaching and through exhibitions. He built the "Nihon Mingeikan" in Tokyo in 1936, in the spirit of Mingei and using its traditional techniques.

It is important to state that there is no cause-effect relationship between the development of the Mingei Movement and the rise in Japanese nationalism and imperialism between the two world wars that occurs simultaneously. Already in 1919, Yanagi Soetsu wrote about his disagreement with Japan’s policy of military aggression. Moreover, in 1924, he dedicated the National Folk Art Museum of Korea in Seoul (the first of its kind in Asia) to the “beauty of Korean art,” and transformed it into a personal testimony of his “deep respect and affection for Korea.”   

Tabouret Butterfly © Atelier Sori Yanagi, Tokyo
Tabouret Butterfly © Atelier Sori Yanagi, Tokyo
Grand verseur à bec © Nihon Mingeikan, Tokyo
Grand verseur à bec © Nihon Mingeikan, Tokyo
Bamboo Basket Chair © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York
Bamboo Basket Chair © The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, New York