Monday, November 9, 2009

Japanese Folk Crafts Museum

Last week I had the opportunity to visit the Japanese Folk Crafts Museum in Tokyo, also known as the Mingeikan Museum. The museum, built in 1936, has over 17,000 items made by crafts people. The term Mingei (folk art), was coined by Yanagi Soetsu who used it to refer to common crafts that had been brushed aside by the industrial revolution. Yanagi “sought to counteract the desire for cheap mass-produced products by pointing to the works of ordinary crafts people that spoke to the spiritual and practical needs of life” – this came to be known as the Mingei Movement.

To celebrate the 120th anniversary of the birth of Soetsu Yanagi, the Mingeikan Museum currently has an exhibit of 400 works selected by Yanagi that reflect his philosophy of finding beauty and art in everyday items. In his words he described the beauty of Mingei as “wholesome, honest, natural, innocent, free, simple, and pure.” The works on display had to meet the following criteria in order to be considered Mingei – made by anonymous crafts people; produced by hand in quantity; inexpensive; used by the masses; functional in daily life; representative of the region in which it was produced. Photography was not allowed inside the building but I would encourage you to take a few moments to check out their website -

The photos on the slideshow are from the grounds and exterior shots of the 2 buildings. One is the museum, the other is the Nagayamon (long gate house) which was built in the 19th century in Tochigi Prefecture and moved to this site in the 1930’s. Sadly, we were not there on the day the long gate house is open for tours but I plan to go back. In December, they have an annual show called the New Works Competition where craftspeople are asked to submit their work – and I have already spied some shibori work from previous shows. Like a moth to flame … shibori calls me to return.

You will notice from the photo with the basket of slippers that once again, I had to take off my street shoes and tour the building in surippa (slippers). If you are planning to visit Japan, making sure you always have a pair of socks with you is highly recommended – especially in the summer time, sticking hot, sweaty American feet into the provided slippers is sure to offend someone! Of course, the Japanese are probably way to polite to ever say anything – they’d just discreetly whisk away the contaminated slippers. If you can find some easily compactable slippers to put in your backpack or purse – that would be a good idea. Most places provide slippers but the problem I seem to have is my big American feet hang off the back of the slippers and I end up shuffling along like some sort of degenerate.

My friends and I lucked out on another glorious Fall day, and after leaving the museum (with countless creative ideas swimming in my head after the beautiful and inspiring works) we stumbled on a park and decided to take a detour as we wound our way back to the train station. The park, Komabano, was at one time used as a hawking area during the Edo Era and during the Meiji Period the first military review was held there. With history crammed into every nook and cranny here the Japanese appear to take great care of their public spaces. Over and over I will probably continue to share my astonishment at how clean everything is here – there was not a single piece of trash, candy wrapper, cigarette butt, water bottle to be seen lying on the ground throughout the park. Nor walking down the numerous streets we were on that day. I am also impressed with all the details – the lovely iron gate for instance that led into the park. It seems that everywhere I turn here, there is opportunity for eye candy and inspiration.

Till next time, sayonara.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts