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Serial: Auxiliary Lines for Things and People #12: Free 'MINGEI'

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Mai Tsunoo / Design Writer
Mai Tsunoo / Design Writer

After graduating from Keio University's Faculty of Environment and Information Studies, she worked for a manufacturer before becoming an assistant to design engineer Shunji Yamanaka from 2012 to 2016. After that, she spent a year in Scotland and is currently working as a freelancer.
While exploring expressions to express what needs to be conveyed with ease, she writes for media such as "Nikkei Design" and also handles exhibition organization and copywriting.
Her main projects include the composition of the Tokyo University Institute of Industrial Technology's 70th Anniversary Exhibition "Maybe the Future: Engineering x Design" (The National Art Center, Tokyo · 2018), and writing for the "Bug Exhibition – Role Model of Design" (21_21 DESIGN SIGHT, 2019).
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The "MINGEI – Beauty in Daily Life" exhibition (hereafter, "MINGEI Exhibition") is being held at Osaka Nakanoshima Museum of Art, famous for its black exterior. The "folk craft movement" was proposed around 100 years ago by Soetsu Yanagi, a potter, in a joint signature with Kenkichi Tomimoto (more commonly known as 'Tomimoto Kenkichi'), Kanjiro Kawai (more commonly known as 'Kawai Kanjiro'), and Shoji Hamada, in the "Purpose statement for the establishment of the Japan Folk Crafts Museum", a lifestyle culture movement. 'MINGEI' is an abbreviation for 'folk crafts'. The general explanation is that it was not just for aesthetic crafts, but rather about recognizing the beauty of the everyday handwork created by craftsmen.
To be honest, I have never fully understood Mingei. Of course, I am attracted to and interested in what are called Mingei crafts. However, I was not quite sure about the definition or the difference between crafts. In "民藝とは何か" by Soetsu Yanagi, there is a clear definition of Mingei. "Things that are used every day, daily essentials, and items directly necessary for daily life and living. These are what are called Mingei. Therefore, it's not rare, it's mass-produced, it's readily available, it's inexpensive, it's omnipresent – that's Mingei."
To understand it, those functionally beautiful items, neither flamboyant nor mass-produced by craftsman at that time, were referred as such. However, there is clearly an aesthetic perspective. Should there be a connoisseur’s sense to say about something, "This is Mingei," surrounded by mass-produced items, while looking at the exhibits I realized these were chosen from a perspective close to that
In the Mingei Exhibition, about 150 items collected by Yanagi and others both domestically and internationally are on display. The exhibition is divided into three parts: a reproduction of the 1941 'Life Exhibition' held by Soetsu Yanagi, a display of historic folk crafts divided into 'clothing, food, and shelter', and exhibits showing the production areas of Mingei continuing to the present day.
At the entrance, there was a message from Naoto Fukasawa, the current director of The Japan Folk Crafts Museum. 'Finding and materializing a "good relationship between people, things, and environment" is the original purpose of design, and I believe it is precisely the philosophy of Mingei', expressing the relationship between design and Mingei too.
The first part of the exhibition is a reproduction of the 1941 'Living Exhibition' and visitors are allowed to take photographs. Now it's commonplace to talk about interior coordination, but it's interesting to see that over 80 years ago, Soetsu Yanagi was working with that perspective in mind.
The items in the 'Mingei in Life' section, the second part of the exhibit focusing on clothing, food, and housing, allowed me to understand their definite beauty just by looking at them, and I found the comments on why each item was chosen for the Folk Craft Museum's collection interesting. Notes on the conversations between Soetsu Yanagi and Kanjiro Kawai when they found a good item while visiting antique shops, conveyed the excitement of what can be called 'Folk Craft Otaku (Fanatic)'.
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