Arts & Crafts: Japan 1926-1945
The Mingei (Folk Crafts) movement in Japan was led by the philosopher and critic Yanagi Sōetsu and officially established in 1926. It was equivalent to, and very largely inspired by, the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and Europe. John Ruskin and William Morris, whose work had been available since the1880s,were major influences. Knowledge about subsequent developments in Europe also reached Japan.
As with other Arts and Crafts developments, the Mingei movement emerged during a time of rapid change. In Japan, this involved westernisation as well as industrialisation and urban growth. Mingei philosophy recognised this international and urban dimension, but at the same time asserted a new sense of Japanese national identity.
Introducing the idea that humble goods could be inherently beautiful, leaders of the Mingei movement advocated the use of historical folk crafts as the starting point for new craft production. They assembled extensive collections and founded museums to house them. They also created model rooms in an ambitious attempt to persuade the middle classes to adopt a new hybrid lifestyle that combined both Japanese and western features.
Historical Folk Crafts
The Mingei movement devoted a great deal of energy to collecting historical folk crafts. Central to this was the application of the principle of 'direct perception', the intuitive ability to discover beauty that was 'born' rather than 'made'. This reflected a belief on the part of Yanagi Sōetsu and his followers that true beauty could only be found in works created in a spirit of selfless innocence and in close harmony with nature.
One of the most significant achievements of the Mingei movement was the establishment of a revolutionary new style of middle-class living. This combined old and new, east and west, rural and urban in a compelling hybrid that sought to meet the new economic and social conditions of early 20th-century Japan.
The first and most important Mingei building designed by Yanagi Sōetsu and his companions was the Mikunisō (Mikuni Villa). Initially this was built as a Folk Craft Pavilion for an exhibition in Tokyo in 1928. After the exhibition closed, a wealthy businessman bought the pavilion and converted it into a guest house in the grounds of his residence in the Mikuni district of Osaka.
Artist-craftsmen of the Mingei Movement
The Mingei movement was a modern craft movement. It championed the work of named artist-craftsmen who, by example, helped to preserve and raise the standards of traditional artisanal craft production threatened by industrialisation.
Four of the founding members of the Mingei movement were potters: the Englishman Bernard Leach, who lived in Japan from 1909 to 1920, Hamada Shōji, Kawai Kanjirō and Tomimoto Kenkichi. After the official launching of the Mingei movement in 1926, they were joined by the textile artist Serizawa Keisuke, the woodwork and lacquer artist Kuroda Tatsuaki, and the painter and woodblock-print artist Munakata Shikō.
The works created by these seven artist-craftsmen are concrete expressions of the enthusiasms and preoccupations of the artistic and intellectual circles in which they moved. They are undisputed classics from a seminal period in the development of Japanese crafts
This content was originally written in association with the exhibition 'International Arts and Crafts', on display at the V&A South Kensington from 17 March - 24 July 2005.