For a long time, I never doubted myself that the Sashiko is the “handicrafts art” which was found in Japanese Mingei Art Movement. I’ve read some books about the theory by the founder, Yanagi Souetsu (or Muneyoshi), of this Japanese folk movement. I’ve visited the folk art museum in Tokyo where Mr.Yanagi established. I still believe that Sashiko in a large category of fabric wouldn’t be famous if the Mingei movement didn’t occur in 1920s and 1930s. Sashiko wasn’t the main crafts Mr.Yanagi focused. He significantly worked on the pottery, especially those were used in the Japanese Tea ceremony.
None of my understandings changed. However, I come to realize that I had never tried to explain what Mingei Art Movement was in English. Although I had briefly introduced it throughout my Sashiko workshops or when I introduce Sashiko, it was merely a quick mention with a very shallow explanation. Introducing “how” to do Sashiko is important in the workshop. However, introducing Sashiko’s history by explaining how it came to the surface of art-culture is also a very important aspect of passing Sashiko down to next generation. We, as Upcycle Stitches LLC, will try our best to describe it in English.
*Most of the writing is based on my (Atsushi’s) interpretation. In other words, they are merely my opinion based on books from the past and talks from people. When I refer the definition or sentence from existing book, I, of course, will refer the origin. However, the reference may be only in Japanese.
*As I mentioned above, Mr.Yanagi described Sashiko only a little bit. He mentioned the beauty of Sashiko in Tohoku (Northern part of the main island). I haven’t found any articles about our Sashiko in Hida region and Mingei Movement. However, I believe, there are many handicrafts that Mr. Yanagi didn’t find yet to follow the concept of Mingei Art Movement.
Terminology of Mingei
There are a few words I need to define first. These word-definitions are my personal understanding. If you think of the better definition, please kindly let me know. I am still in the process of learning Mingei Art Movement.
- Mingei (民藝）: Folk Art. Min (民）means (ordinally) people. Mingei is the art produced by (ordinally) people. In contrast, Kan (管）means (governmental) officers.
- Kougei（工芸）: Industrial handicrafts. Explaining the difference between Mingei and Kougei is my challenge here, too.
- Gei-Jyutsu (芸術）: Art.
I will keep updating the terminology while I proceed in updating the website regarding this topic.
What is Mingei?
Mingei is the art produced by the ordinal people for the daily life of the ordinal people. The art produced for loyal family, noble people and government people are not in a category of Mingei. Therefore, Mingei often has different look comparing to the other well-known Japanese art. Mr.Yanagi defined Mingei with the 8 criteria.
- Practical: made for practical usage, not for the display.
- Nameless: made by unknown craftsman, and the craft is not made to be famous.
- Mass-produced: In order to meet the demand from the people, the item were made in mass quantity.
- Reasonable Price: Inexpensive price so the ordinal people could purchase and use.
- Locality: The art item has the local characteristic such as color, shape, and patterns.
- Division of Labor: For the mass production, the art item was made in division of labors by skilled craftsman
- Tradition: Following the tradition and wisdom the ancestors cultivated.
- Collectability: The creation depend on the local tradition and climate rather than the individual skill
The Wikipedia describes the definition like below. I plan to explain each criteria based on my understanding to Sashiko. This is not a research paper, more like an essay to introduce what Sashiko is more clearly.
The philosophical pillar of mingei is “hand-crafted art of ordinary people” (民衆的な工芸 (minshū-teki-na kōgei)). Yanagi Sōetsu discovered beauty in everyday ordinary and utilitarian objects created by nameless and unknown craftsmen. According to Yanagi, utilitarian objects made by the common people are “beyond beauty and ugliness”. Below are a few criteria of mingei art and crafts:
- made by anonymous crafts people
- produced by hand in quantity
- used by the masses
- functional in daily life
- the representative of the regions in which they were produced.
What Mingei Art Movement brought to the world
Mingei Art Movement influenced not only to the Japanese who didn’t focus on the beautiful art by ordinal people, but it also influences the western culture by introducing the Japanese, Korean and Chinese culture regarding handcrafts. In order to explain the whole picture of Mingei Art Movement thoroughly, I would need to start writing about the aspect of religion. For now, I am not ready to start the deep discussion of the whole picture of Mingei Art Movement.
I will keep writing about the Sashiko, and Mingei Art Movement regarding Sashiko.