Mingei [民芸] By Ajioka, Chiaki
Developed in Japan in the mid-1920s, “Mingei” denotes a concept that encompasses objects, aesthetics, and philosophy. Developed by three individuals—religious philosopher and aesthete Yanagi Muneyoshi (Sōetsu 柳宗悦, 1889–1961), and potters Hamada Shōji (浜田庄司, 1894–1978) and Kawai Kanjirō (河井寛次郎, 1890–1966)—Mingei recognizes the beauty in humble folk crafted objects sold at markets. The three founding members conceived the term minshū-teki kōgei (craft with characteristics of people), eventually shortening it to Mingei. Typical Mingei objects were handcrafted wares from pre-modern eras produced in large quantities for everyday use. Yanagi claimed that their beauty—the simplicity, robustness, and honesty of the material—was “born, not made.” As such, one could recognize the beauty of said objects through “direct perception” or “seeing before knowing.” A wide range of Japanese and non-Japanese ideas informed Mingei theory, including those of John Ruskin, William Morris, William Blake, Walt Whitman, Émile Mâle, and the works of British potter Bernard Leach (1887–1979). While Mingei began as a sense of appreciation, it developed into an artistic movement through research and propagation in the magazine Kōgei (Craft [1931–1951]).