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Goin’ Japanesque!

Japanese Crafts in Tokyo “The Japan Folk Crafts Museum” 80th Anniversary Exhibition

Have you heard of the word “mingei”? Mingei is a Japanese word to mean “folk crafts” and it was created in the 1920s. Today, people who love folk crafts use the term “mingei” even overseas.

The Nihon Mingeikan or the Japan Folk Crafts Museum was founded in Tokyo’s Komaba in 1936. It just so happens that an exhibition commemorating the museum’s 80th anniversary is going on right now.


The History of the Japan Folk Crafts Museum

The Japan Folk Crafts Museum was founded in 1936 by Muneyoshi Yanagi, who was a member of the Shirakaba-ha (an influential Japanese literary coterie) and ceramic artists Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai. There were people who recognized fine art as beautiful, but before them, folk crafts (sometimes referred to as ‘lesser art’) was not recognized as a work of beauty. Yanagi and his group focused on the beauty of daily used vessels and travelled around Japan to collect large amounts of folk crafts.

Writer’s Photo: Main Hall of the Japan Folk Crafts Museum

The Main Hall of the Japan Folk Crafts Museum is a building that was designed to display the collection of folk crafts. The dream of opening the museum was realized through donations from all over Japan to support Yanagi and the group’s efforts to open an arts museum, as well as large sums of donations from Magosaburo Ohara, an entrepreneur of Kurashiki and Tamesaburo Yamamoto of Asahi Breweries.  

The efforts of Yanagi were called the “Mingei Movement”. They collected and displayed folk crafts and furthermore, provided production guidance so that good works of folk crafts would be born in modern times. The Mingei Movement can be recognized as a similar movement to Britain’s Arts and Crafts Movement inspired by William Morris.


The West Hall

Writer’s Photo: West Hall of the Japan Folk Crafts Museum – Seen in the back is the school building of Tokyo University

The West Hall located facing the Main Hall is a Nagayamon gate from Tochigi prefecture, relocated to the site. It is the old residence of Muneyoshi Yanagi. The roof is made of Oya stone roof tiles. In a renovation project some 10 years ago, parts of the roof tiles were repaired and thus there are some differences in color. The Oya stone roof tiles are surprisingly 30 kg a piece. The building itself reflects the beauty of traditional workmanship.


Enter from Here

Writer’s Photo: Entrance to the Japan Folk Crafts Museum

Here is the entrance to the museum. Within the building, the doors, the lighting and wall papers, the display cases, and all around in every detail is a reflection of Yanagi and the group’s aesthetics. Within the display case wall, there is a room that has a hand woven cloth made from kudzu (Japanese arrowroot) fibers.

Types of display rooms: ceramics room, dyed and woven textiles room, paintings room, lacquered crafts room, Korean crafts room, craft artists room, crafts room of other countries and indigenous peoples, and the large exhibition room.  


Few Words of Explanation is Its Unique Feature

Writer’s Photo: Area Allowed for Photography

The building has very little Japanese explanation and the display is designed for visitors to see and “feel” the beauty of the works. The philosophy behind the exhibition at the Japan Folk Crafts Museum comes from the phrase “Mite shiriso. Shiritena miso” which are the words of Muneyoshi Yanagi to mean, “Look and learn, do not learn and then look”.

Writer’s Photo: Area Allowed for Photography

The captions are written in vermillion on a black surface rather than with black ink on a white surface. This is in order to not interfere with the aesthetic beauty of the display. Unless there are special circumstances, explanatory caption for the exhibited works are rarely displayed.


The Bench on the 2nd Floor is a Recommended Spot

If you go up to the 2nd floor, there is a large wooden bench that is placed facing the open space. This is a recommended seating area. It is comfortable to leisurely look across the museum from this space. It is a bench made by Tatsuaki Kuroda, once nominated a Living National Treasure. For visitors who have trouble using the stairs in the building, there is an elevator located in the back that can be used if you ask the staff.


Current Exhibitions

The exhibition that is currently going on is “Muneyoshi Yanagi/Path of His Collection -focusing on Crafts of Japan” and there are a particularly large number of Japanese works on display. This exhibit is ongoing until November 23rd.

Writer’s Photo: Large Hall on 2nd Floor of the Japan Folk Crafts Museum

This map of Japan is a 13 meter long folding screen that indicates the areas of production for handcrafts. It is displayed on the wall of the 2nd floor Large Hall. It is a hand drawn work by Keisuke Serizawa. Many areas of production are illustrated which shows that Japan is a country of handicrafts.


Museum Shop

Writer’s Photo

The Museum Shop sells books and handicrafts made in various parts of the country. There is a wide variety of items such as ceramics, glassware, hand woven fabrics, dyed textiles, stationary made from Japanese washi paper, and calendars that if a traveler stops by before heading back to their home country, he or she is sure to want to buy not only souvenirs but a personal memento for him/herself.

Writer’s Photo

To get to the museum, take the Inokashira Line from Shibuya, get off at Komaba Todai-mae Station which is 2 stations from Shibuya. It is a 7 minute walk from the West Exit.


The Once Annual New Works Competition and Exhibition

Writer’s Photo: A Poster of the Exhibition from 5 Years Ago

An upcoming exhibition is the annual “New Works Competition and Exhibition 2016”. Works of craftspeople from all around Japan are displayed and sold. During the period of the exhibition, there is an even wider selection of works than ordinarily offered at the Museum Shop. It gets crowded, but handicraft items that are generally difficult to attain are offered for sale. If you are interested in making purchases, rather than viewing, it is a once a year event so make sure not to miss it.

Duration: December 11th to 23rd, 2016 (Closed Mondays)
*Please note the museum closure between exhibitions.  

<The Japan Folk Crafts Museum> Official Website
4-3-33 Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, Map
Tel: 03-3467-4527
Closed: Mondays
Hours: 10:00AM -5:00PM (last admission is 4:30PM)
Admission: Adults 1,100 Yen, University & High School Students 600 Yen, Junior High School & Elementary School Students 200 Yen
West Hall (Yanagi Residence) Hours: Second and Third Wednesdays and Saturdays of the Month, (last admission is 4:00PM)

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About the author

I have worked in a museum as a curator and I specialize is in craft products. I have grown up in the city, but now enjoy the country life. From an environment rich in nature, I will report to you on seasonal events and customs of Japan, foods and how to make them. I look forward to introducing special moments in Japan that you will not see in ordinary guidebooks.

View all articles by Kunie