In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mingei

  • Introduction
  • Surveys and References
  • Analysis of the Mingei Movement
  • Writings by Yanagi Sōetsu (Muneyoshi, 1889-1961)
  • Autobiographical and Other Primary Sources
  • Journals

Art History Mingei
Meghen Jones
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920105-0172


Amid the rapid changes brought on by Japan’s modernization and urbanization in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries arose a discourse of the appreciation of folk culture. From the 1920s onward, writer, educator, and aesthete Yanagi Sōetsu (Muneyoshi, 柳宗悦, b. 1889–d. 1961) spearheaded the Mingei movement, centered on the recognition and preservation of Japanese folk craft objects and their creation. The term mingei, usually translated into English as “folk craft” or “folk art,” is a shortened form of minshūteki kōgei 民衆的工芸, or “people’s craft.” Coined in the mid-1920s, the two characters of mingei combine “of the people” (民min) with “art” or “craft” (藝, 芸gei). Yanagi defined mingei as functional, ordinary, healthy objects of daily life for the common classes created by anonymous makers in quantity. Unlike folk studies specialists relying on ethnographic or empirical values, Yanagi and his followers determined what constitutes mingei according to aesthetic and moral precepts of goodness and truth, with Pure Land Buddhism a particular influence in post–World War II discourse. Through the activities of the Japan Mingei Association (Nihon Mingei Kyōkai 日本民藝協, 1931–), the Japan Folk Crafts Museum (Nihon Mingeikan 日本民藝館, 1936–) and several journals, the Mingei movement has aimed to advance the research, collecting, promotion, and sale of mingei objects. Mingei exhibitions and various forms of outreach have positioned Mingei aesthetic values as Japanese national cultural identity, and special attention has been given to the preservation of craft making in remote areas. By the end of World War II, mingei had become a household word in Japan, and in the 1950s the Japanese government used the term in official documents to categorize one genre of Japanese craft (kōgei). Today, there are dozens of museums throughout Japan with ties to the Japan Mingei Association as well as a Mingei museum in San Diego, California, founded in 1978 by Martha Longenecker. In some respects, the Mingei movement’s ethos parallels the utopianism of the late-19th-century British Arts and Crafts movement and its offshoot in Germany, the Deutscher Werkbund. But the Mingei movement did not focus heavily on economic issues or promote collaborations between artists and designers within industrial production and architecture like its forebears in Europe. Mingei precepts have greatly influenced modern craft ideology in the English-reading world, particularly for ceramists in the post–World War II era. Publications on Mingei mainly comprise primary sources by Yanagi and his followers, museum catalogues, and scholarly analyses from anthropological, art-historical, and postcolonialist historical points of view. Over the last few decades, critical studies of Mingei have probed the contradictions, complexities, and problems of Yanagi’s theories in light of their political and economic contexts. Several recent publications in Japanese explore Mingei’s relevance to contemporary society. This bibliography’s focus is English-language sources, with select Japanese-language primary sources and recent scholarship.

Surveys and References

Introductions to Mingei generally chronicle the variety of premodern Mingei objects, the movement’s philosophy, and the activities of modern craftspeople affiliated with the movement. By historians outside of Japan, these include articles in Grove Art Online, Munsterberg 1958, Stanley-Baker 1979, and Frolet 1986. Written by Mingei movement leaders are Yoshida 1971, Mizuo 1972, Yoshida 1973, Muraoka and Okamura 1973, and Shiga 2016. The relevance of Mingei philosophy and practices to makers and designers today is the subject of articles in a special issue of Bijutsu techō (2019).

  • Frolet, Élisabeth. Yanagi Soetsu ou les éléments d’une renaissance artistique au Japon. Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne, 1986.

    A comprehensive introduction in French to Yanagi’s theory, the development and influence of the movement, and the work of six contemporary artist-craftsmen.

  • Grove Art Online.

    Includes short articles on Hamada Shōji, Mingei, Myōman Mokujiki, Munakata Shikō, the Ōhara family, Tomimoto Kenkichi, and Yanagi Sōetsu (Muneyoshi).

  • Mizuo Hiroshi 水尾比呂志. Mingei (民藝). Tokyo: Shibundō, 1972.

    By the former director of the Japan Mingei Association, encapsulates mingei’s “discovery” by Yanagi, mingei’s beauty and attributes, the concept bishu mibun (beyond beauty and ugliness), and the history of mingei from before the Edo period to the present.

  • Munsterberg, Hugo. The Folk Arts of Japan. Tokyo: C.E. Tuttle, 1958.

    Documents the diversity of Japanese folk craft in a wide range of mediums still in active production in the 1950s, as well as “peasant houses.”

  • Muraoka, Kageo, and Kichiemon Okamura. Folk Arts and Crafts of Japan. Translated by Daphne D. Stegmaier. Tokyo and New York: Weatherhill/Heibonsha, 1973.

    Aimed for a general readership, covers Mingei’s definitions, attributes, mediums, appreciation, and economic, cultural, and geographic contexts. Illustrates objects from a variety of private and museum collections. Part of the thirty-volume Heibonsha comprehensive survey of Japanese art.

  • Shiga Naokuni 志賀直邦. Mingei no rekishi (民藝の歴史). Tokyo: Chikumashobō, 2016.

    (The history of mingei). A short survey of the activities of Yanagi and the philosophy of the Mingei movement, written by the former president of the Mingeikan and associate of the Mingei store Takumi.

  • Special Issue: 100nen go no mingei 100年後の民藝. Bijutsu techō 美術手帖, April 2019.

    (Mingei 100 years on). Published on the centennial of the movement’s inception, features articles on Mingei’s currency for product design, the development of knowledge about Mingei, and Mingei’s future.

  • Stanley-Baker, Joan. Mingei: Folk Crafts of Japan. Victoria, BC: Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, 1979.

    Features the collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Mainly on ceramics and textiles, but also woodwork, stencils, and paper. The definition of mingei extends to tea ceremony utensils.

  • Yoshida, Shōya. Folk-Art. Osaka: Hoikusha, 1971.

    A “pocket art show” with descriptions by Miyazaki Shūjirō of prototypical objects in the Tottori Mingei Museum collection, from Japanese pot hooks and votive prayer plaques to Dutch tiles. Yoshida was a doctor who sought to promote Tottori-made mingei locally and at the store Takumi in Tokyo’s Ginza district.

  • Yoshida Shōya 吉田璋也. Mingei nyūmon (民芸入門). Tokyo: Hoikusha, 1973.

    (An introduction to mingei). Defines old and new mingei, acknowledges Yanagi’s role in the movement, and documents Yanagi’s personal travels and other activities involving Mingei.

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