Soetsu Yanagi

The Beauty of Everyday Things
  • The Beauty of Everyday Things

  • "Radical and inspiring ... Yanagi's vision puts the connection between heart and hand before the transient and commercial" - Edmund de Waal

    The daily lives of ordinary people are replete with objects, common things used in commonplace settings. These objects are our constant companions in life. As such, writes Soetsu Yanagi, they should be made with care and built to last, treated with respect and even affection. They should be natural and simple, sturdy and safe - the aesthetic result of wholeheartedly fulfilling utilitarian needs. They should, in short, be things of beauty.

    In an age of feeble and ugly machine-made things, these essays call for us to deepen and transform our relationship with the objects that surround us. Inspired by the work of the simple, humble craftsmen Yanagi encountered during his lifelong travels through Japan and Korea, they are an earnest defence of modest, honest, handcrafted things - from traditional teacups to jars to cloth and paper. Objects like these exemplify the enduring appeal of simplicity and function: the beauty of everyday things.

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.