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Read in 2011: Folk Crafts in Japan (1948) by Muneyoshi Yanagi

Akiko Shimbo
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

When I was staying in the U.K., There were many times that people who I met for the first time talked to me nostalgically about Japan. A carpenter who came to the boarding house where I was living told me that he liked and had learned Japanese calligraphy. A young grocery store cashier in London told me she loved anime and wanted to learn Japanese. He even sung me an anime song. They had never been to Japan, but they knew a lot about the country. Therefore, like meeting for the first time an author of a book that you have read intensively, they connected with nostalgia with a Japanese person they had never met before. I sometimes feel the same way myself. This is especially true when I see various pieces of folk crafts of Africa, Asia and the world.

Folk Crafts in Japan by Muneyoshi Yanagi is about the state of folk crafts across Japan around 1940. It was written during the Pacific War (1941 - 1945) and published after the war ended in 1948. It was written for young people, but the author expressed in his introduction that it might also be useful for the general public. In Chapter 1, the background of articles is explained based on nature, history and unique traditions. After this, there is an introduction to folk crafts in each part of the country; from Tohoku to Okinawa. The final chapter touches upon mingei (folk craft) theory in simple words with the question of why these folk crafts are viewed as "correct" and "beautiful," based on the three points of the "achievement of the craftsman," "beauty of practical use" and "beauty of health." In particular, the author called Tohoku the "country of folk crafts" and asserted that "for Japan, Tohoku is truly an important region." He devoted a large number of pages to this theme.

Upon considering Japan in the world, what the author says in the book to caution us is impressive. He says that we should not think of cultural differences as being superior or inferior to one another because of too much emphasis on things peculiar to one's own nation. "If the cherry tree criticizes plums, anyone would say that is foolish. Countries must honor what is unique to each other. Furthermore, interestingly, we feel that things which have truly national and regional properties have one thing in common inside of them although each shape is different. In this sense, things that are truly ethnical can be said to be brothers close to each other." In other words, instead of the hometown becoming the world, the hometown becomes regional.

All designs became established by an accumulation of the past. At the same time, we know there is a mutual influence beyond boundaries. In other words, while the arrow of light called design is running at full speed, a vertical spear called the time axis has penetrated through. At the same time, horizontal spear called the space axis is constantly piercing through from all sides. While this is accepted or rejected, it continues as it is sprinting on. Drawing such images like this, I once more read this book this year.

Folk Crafts in Japan by Muneyoshi Yanagi (The first edition was published in 1948 by Seibunsha. The Iwanami Bunko edition was published in 1985.)

Akiko Shimbo
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

Akiko Shimbo acquired a Ph.D. in history at Royal Holloway, University of London in 2007. She has been in her present post since April 2010. She specializes in 18-19th century British cultural, social and design history. Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England 1754-1851: Design as Interaction is a special book based on her doctoral dissertation at the University of London. This book is scheduled to be published by Ashgate Publishing (UK). Her papers include Design as Interaction between Producers and Consumers: Examples of Furniture Production Orders in England in the Late 18th Century (Design History No. 9, 2011), among others.