Mingei: Old Japan on Hand

The human touch in folk crafts in Japan was largely brushed aside by the country’s rapid modernization in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In response, there has arisen a folk art preservation movement called mingei.  It focuses on the beauty in objects created by average people that are practical and used in daily life.

Our new museum gallery and its permanent exposition, “Mingei: Old Japan on Hand,” shows the movement to be a distinctly Japanese appreciation of the traditional. Mingei challenges narrow definitions of art by focusing on utilitarian items made by their everyday users, rather than on refined works from professional artists.

The collection includes objects spanning more than 200 years. Among them are a straw barrel and porcelain cups to store and drink Japanese rice wine, or sake, and brushes tipped with deer, horse, rabbit, or squirrel hair to draw calligraphy and make ink-wash paintings. You’ll find garments, too – kimonos and obi sashes – as well as a rustic iron hearth and traditional hasami, or sewing scissors, forged by an ironmonger from a single piece of steel and reflecting the skills of sword makers applied to a household item.

With “Mingei: Old Japan on Hand,” we celebrate nameless creators who used materials as common as themselves – stone, ceramics, textiles, paper, bamboo, lacquer, and wood – to make functional things that are humble, but nonetheless of value, because they preserve the sense of the personal in an era of mass production.