Even the common articles made for daily use become endowed with beauty when they are loved.
How many times have you held a small Japanese cup of tea, with rough edges on its brim, yet is smooth and warm, and nestles perfectly in your palms? The attraction towards Japanese crafts and indigenous products of utility lies not merely on their physical aesthetics, but more so on the beauty that arises from the love that the craftsmen have bestowed on their creations.
Soetsu Yanagi is one of the most respected names in the world of Japanese arts and crafts and founder of the Mingei folk crafts movement in Japan that evolved during the 1920s and 1930s. His deep philosophy focuses on “honest” creation by ordinary and unknown craftspeople. The term mingei was then, identified with beauty residing in everyday products used by common people, and as they adapt to regional climates and customs, their material, shape, color, and process evoke a pure sense of originality.
Currently running at the 21_21 Design Sight Museum, Tokyo until the 24th of February, 2019, “MINGEI - Another Kind of Art” produced by product designer Naoto Fukasawa, recognizes the emotional power of mingei products and their wide variety in material and usage—ceramics, stone, wood, bamboo, lacquer, marble, bronze, textile, and others—with links to their history and their adaptation to the everyday livelihood of the Japanese people. The grand exhibition covers about 146 traditional and modern mingei items carefully selected by Naoto Fukasawa from the Japan Folk Crafts Museum. Renowned product designer Fukasawa is a winner of numerous awards, such as the 2018 Isamu Noguchi Award, and acts as director of the Nihon Mingeikan or The Japan Folk Crafts Museum since 2012. He explains his concept for the Mingei exhibition, “There is something indescribably charming about the objects created by the selfless hands of someone who is neither an artist, nor a craftsperson…Mingei as coined by Yanagi is in fact expressing the way of life of the people who create it. …It entails a freedom of not demanding a set finished look. We love, respect, and are moved by mingei. We don't need information about who made it, when or how it was made. It's simply about looking at a creation, being enthralled by its charm and thinking ‘Wow, this is amazing.’”
Fukasawa had always been allured by simple objects and tools that originated from the Song Dynasty in China, as well as artifacts from the Joseon period. The pure appreciation for these products were not rooted on their authenticity or monetary value, but rather on their simple beauty, which in some angles, depicted a tinge of “loneliness that makes people want to embrace them tightly.”
Furthermore, Fukasawa emphasizes on the products’ appeal to the users rather than the creator’s purpose for creation. “Whether the subject is a work of art or industrial product, the important point is not the intention of the creator, but rather how the receiving party feels when they stand face-to-face with the said item…the key to further advancement of handicrafts is knowing instantaneous intuition and the true heart of the beholder when they encounter a creation.
It has been said that traditional technology during the olden days had “an ability to hear voices of natural living things.” This implied that craft makers in villages were able to comprehend the history of the growth and condition of trees in the forests by merely touching and living with them. Despite the absence of “professional” training in craft making, these people have been blessed with the intrinsic and aesthetic ability to form and mold objects using natural materials that have always been part of their daily existence. This correlation between nature and the inherent approach to craft making is referred to as “personification” —by which Japanese craftsmen treat nature “as their equal”.; hence, delivering a profound beauty in the products that they create.
Through the generous support of the Japanese Folk Crafts Museum Mingeikan, these beautiful utility objects of art have now been exposed to the public for their deep appreciation and understanding of how crafts can be both functional and appealing in the eyes of ordinary creators. Mingeikan adheres to Soetsu Yanagi’s profound conviction for works with “no technical information, no impact on form or technique, no opinions from experts, but for viewers to contemplate aesthetic value and empathy; beyond beauty and ugliness".
The products on display are grouped by material and functionality. There is, for example, a charcoal brazier from Akita in the 1930s; a vermilion-lacquered saké vessel from Okinawa during the Ryukyu dynasty, 19th century; a Zushi (Buddhist altar object) from Suruga, Shizuoka during the Edo period, 19th century; a plate with reticulate patterns from Jingdezhen, China during the Ming dynasty, 17th century; a white porcelain candlestick from Hirasa, Satsuma, Kagoshima during the Edo period, 19th century; and trousers with diamond-shaped sashiko) from the Nanbu area, Aomori during the Taisho period, early 20th century, among many others.
There is a selfless beauty that is beyond our imagination…(works made from) pure, casual, free power of the imagination (that) touches my heart and I respect them.
Special gratitude to the 21_21 Design Sight Museum.