Yanagi Muneyoshi (柳宗悦)

Muneyoshi YANAGI (March 21, 1889 - May 3, 1961) was a thinker, religious philosopher, and art scholar who triggered the Mingei (National Art) Movement.

Biography and Personal Profile
He was born in Tokyo Prefecture (current Tokyo Metropolitan). He was the third son of Narayoshi YANAGI, who had the title of Marine Major General. He studied at Gakushuin School and graduated from Tokyo University. His major was the Philosophy of Religion.

He was the nephew of Jigoro KANO and started to live in Abiko, Chiba Prefecture (current Abiko City) after being invited by Kano. He then invited Naoya SHIGA and found the opportunity to gather men of literature in Abiko.

He participated in a group of Doujin Magazine (a self-publishing magazine created by a group of similar interest), Shirakaba school, while studying at Gakushuin School. He declared the 'beauty of usage' by focusing on folk art that was used for living, and triggered the Mingei Movement. He established Nihon Mingeikan (the Japan Folk Crafts Museum) in Komaba, Meguro Ward, Tokyo City, Tokyo Prefecture (current Meguro Ward, Tokyo Prefecture) in 1936.

He passed away on May 3, 1961 due to a stroke.


He married Kaneko YANAGI in 1914. Kaneko YANAGI was a female singer (alto singer), who represented modern day Japan.

His sons were Sori YANAGI (eldest son), who was an industrial designer, Munemoto YANAGI (second son), and Munetami YANAGI (third son), who was a horticulturist. His nephews were Yoshitaka YANAGI, who was from a dyeing and weaving family, and Juji ISHIMARU who was an art historian.

Connection with Korea
He criticized the suppression movement of the Japanese government against the March First Movement that occurred on the Korean Peninsula on March 1, 1919 as 'the ones who are more pitiful than them, who are revolting, are us, who are suppressing them.'
While most people that valued Japanese Culture did not show an interest in Korean culture, he focused on Korean Art (especially potteries) and made a collection of Korean porcelains and antique arts not viewed by too many at that time. He established the National Folk Museum of Korea in Keijo Prefecture (Present day Seoul Special City) in 1924. He had a great understanding of Korean culture and when Gwanghwamun of the former imperial palace of the Yi Dynasty Korea period was about to be destroyed due to the widening of the road, he wrote a criticism 'do not lose it for the unified Korean establishment' in a magazine, "Kaizo" (Reconstruction). This brought great response and Gwanghwamun was relocated and preserved.

He was known to have a friendly relation with Bernard LEACH. He translated "Bernard LEACH, Picture Diary in Japan." It was republished by the Academic paperback library, Kodansha Ltd. in 2002. "Yakimono no hon" (A book of ceramics) (Commentary by Hiroshi MIZUO, Kyodo News, 1985) interpreted by Bernard LEACH, Kanjiro KAWAI, Shoji HAMADA, and edited by Muneyoshi YANAGI was published for Fiftieth Anniversary of the establishment of The Japan Folk Crafts Museum.

He studied Mokujiki Gyodo and myokonin (pious followers of the Jodo Shinshu sect), who travelled around Japan and built Buddhist statues and left unique 'Mishobutsu' (Smiling Buddha). Especially the Mokujiki study was famous for taking the opportunity of the discovery of Mokujikibutsu of Muneyoshi YANAGI. "Mokujiki shonin" (wood eating holy Buddhist monk) was collected within "Selected works, Volume Nine" printed by Shunjusha Publishing Company.

Daisetsu SUZUKI, who was a researcher of Buddhism (Zen), was an English teacher for Yanagi during his high school days. He left the words, 'I think of Yanagi,' posthumously.

All 25 volumes were published by Chikuma Shobo Publishers, and took from 1980 to 1992 to complete. Up to the 20th volume were published monthly, but the 21st volume published in 1989 was a collection of letters divided into three sections, and the 22nd volume published in 1992 was divided into two sections, and each was sold for the price of approximately 15,000 yen. He must have devoted more than a decade to compose letters, collecting unpublished manuscripts, and editing documents and chronological history. As a result, the complete volume of the old documents became expensive.

An in-house monthly magazine, Mingei Movement, was published between April 1939 to July 1946 except for publications suspended due to the worsening condition of war. It resumed publishing in the Japan Folk Handicraft Association in 1955. "Reprint of Monthly Mingei" was published by Fuji shuppan Publishers in 2008.

Up to Volume 114 of the in-house magazine "Kogei" (Crafts) of Japanese style books were published from 1931 to 1943, and were suspended temporarily before publishing up to Volume 120 from 1946 to 1951. The last issue was 'Otsu-e' (Otsu paintings, named after the town of Otsu in Shiga Prefecture).

[Original Japanese]