Arts Committee Breakfast Series #4 |Naoto Fukasawa

"Mingei and Design"

Asia Society Japan Center

Asia Society Arts Committee Breakfast Meeting #4

Monday, 1 July 2019


Mr. Naoto Fukazawa

“Mingei & Design”

Mingei is the art of the people. It is distinct from Kogei (craft), which is often the works of artisans who follow traditions and enjoy support from the government and economic powers. The word “Mingei” was coined by Soetsu Yanagi, who discovered a new form of aesthetics in items for everyday use. He collected 17,000 pieces of folk art during his travels and established the Mingeikan (Japan Folk Art Museum) in 1936 to store and share them with the public.

The beauty of Mingei is found in the common, anonymous, humble, selfless, useful, and simple, character of items. Soestsu rediscovered beauty in objects used in everyday life. This is why the pieces exhibited at the Museum are only labeled with their common name and are not accompanied by a history of each item. The beauty of these pieces lies in the fact that they were not made to be appreciated as art.

The objects collected by Soetsu have incredible charm, that somehow makes one not just “like” an item but to “want” it. The Mingeikan held an exhibition at 21_21 Design Site in Roppongi titled “Another Kind of Art,” for which 200 pieces were chosen for the exhibition that were not necessarily practical but were warm and adorable – common, but each bearing a feature that made one smile. Sotetsu was amused by the twist in the design of a common object and the way an item was designed to be used. He was sensitive to what enriches our lives and makes us feel fulfilled and happy. Mingei has inspired modern designers and guided them in giving common simple works a charming essence.

Mr. Fukazawa feels that the Mingeikan’s role today is not just to preserve the treasures in the museum but to share them with the rest of the world; and therefore, he is currently pursuing ways to collaborate with folk art of other countries.

Following Mr. Fukazawa’s initial comments, participants engaged in lively discussion about the boundaries among Mingei, Kogei, industrial design and minimalism, the value of Mingei, and modern aesthetics.