Yanagi, Soetsu (1889-1961)

YANAGI, Soetsu, 1898-1961. YANAGI, Soetsu, 1898-1961.

Soetsu Yanagi (1889–1961), also known as Yanagi Muneyoshi, was a Japanese philosopher and founder of the Mingei (folk crafts) movement in Japan in the late 1920's and 1930's. During this period, Japan was going through rapid westernization, industrialization and urban growth. The Mingei movement was regarded as a reaction to this rapid modernization.

In 1916 Yanagi visited Korea and started to collect items, especially pottery, made by local craftsmen. After Yanagi’s return to Japan he became further absorbed in Japan’s rich cultural heritage in the field of handicrafts and he started collecting ‘vanishing’ items. The objects in his collection included woodwork, lacquer ware, pottery and textiles. Among them are Ainu appliqué, Ainu embroidery, Kogin, Hishi-Zashi and Sashiko clothes. In 1925 he started using the word Mingei, which is an abbreviation of Minshu-teki (ordinary people’s) and Kogei (craft). Yanagi published Kogei no Michi (‘The Way of Crafts’) in the same year. This book is regarded as the bible of Mingei theory.

In 1926 he established the Mingei Movement. Yanagi also founded the Association of Japanese Folk Crafts in 1934 and started publishing magazines called Kogei (‘Crafts’). Because of these activities he is sometimes compared to William Morris and John Ruskin. Yanagi also gave many lectures about Mingei theory in Europe and the USA. His book, first published in English in 1972, became an authoritative work for the study of Japanese life and crafts.

Yanagi’s ‘discovery’ of Japanese crafts led to the foundation of the Japanese Folk Crafts Museum (Nihon Mingeikan) in 1936. The Museum still actively promotes folk crafts in Eastern Asian countries and beyond, and the word Mingei remains in active use in the Japanese language.

Address: Japanese Folk Crafts Museum, 4-3-33 Komaba, Meguro-ku, Tokyo, Japan.


  • KIKUCHI, Yuko (1997). 'A Japanese William Morris, Yanagi Soetsu and ‘Mingei’ Theory,' The William Morris Society, New York, 12.2 (Spring), pp. 39-45.
  • NAKAMI, Mari (2011). In Pursuit of Composite Beauty: Yanagi Sōetsu, His Aesthetics and Aspiration for Peace, Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press, Trans Pacific Press.
  • YANAGI, Soetsu (1989). The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty. Tokyo, New York: Kodansha International, 1989.
  • YANAGI, Soetsu (1972). The Unknown Craftsman, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.
  • http://www.mingeikan.or.jp/english/ (retrieved 6th April 2016).
  • http://www.morrissociety.org/publications/JWMS/SP97.12.2.Kikuchi.pdf (retrieved 6th April 2016).

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 1st July 2016).


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