Soetsu Yanagi was a philosopher of aesthetics and religion, and the founding father of the Japanese folk crafts ('mingei') movement. Born in Tokyo in 1889, his interests as a young man lay firmly in the West: he published the anti-Confucian avant-garde literary magazine Shirakaba ("White Birch"), met and befriended the English potter Bernard Leach, and became fascinated with the work of William Blake and Walt Whitman. In 1914 Yanagi married, and from around that time his interests turned from the West to the East, from fine arts to folk crafts. He met and befriended Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai and, together with the Asakawa brothers, established a Korean folk crafts museum in Seoul. He became interested in, and began travelling the country in search of, statues and objects crafted by the Buddhist priest and sculptor Mokujiki. He found himself captivated by the beauty of the utilitarian, everyday objects produced by anonymous, provincial craftsmen that he found while on his travels. In 1925 he gave these hitherto unrecognised works the name mingei, 'folk craft'; in 1936, he opened the Japan Folk Crafts Museum to exhibit them, serving as the museum's first director. Aesthetics, folk crafts and the philosophy of religion continued to fascinate Yanagi throughout his life. In 1957, in acknowledgment of his unremitting dedication of folk crafts, he was designated a Person of Cultural Merit by the Japanese government. He died in1961.
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