Rediscover the Beauty of Traditional Japanese Art and Crafts Through WADO PROJECT's 'Mingei' World

As the highly anticipated International Antiques Fair (IAF) is set to take place in Hong Kong this May, we are going to introduce some exciting events from this year's fair. One of the special-themed exhibitions will be Beauty and Faith: Mingei and the Essence of Japanese Art curated by Japanese-based group WADO PROJECT, showcasing an array of Japanese works of art that embody traditional Japanese culture. We have invited WADO PROJECT to tell us more about the exhibition and give us a better understanding of Mingei.

While many people nowadays believe creativity and novelty come from new and unconventional ideas, WADO PROJECT believes that traditional culture can be an important source for creating innovative artworks. Whether we are awared of that or not, Japanese traditional culture has long been inherited in various art forms and continued to influence the creation of artwork even in the modern world. 

Aspired to bring Japanese culture including skills and spirit of Japanese Art and Crafts to people around the world, WADO PROJECT acts as a bridge between provinces of Japan and all persons in the world. And this vision is demonstrated in its name WADO.

In Japanese, "WA" means "Japanese", "circle and friendship" while "DO" means "street and way". "WADO" thus means the "way" of Japanese tradition. Through collaborating with those who are strongly influenced by Japanese aesthetics and creativity, WADO PROJECT serves as an interactive platform to give everyone an access to discover the traditional Japan. They regularly organise art exhibitions and events, including the upcoming one in IAF, in a way to form circles of people to share exquisite art and culture and pass it down to generations. 

Coffer with design in Johana Makie "Hydrangea" by Ohara Jigoemon XVI

A set of small plates with Jigoemon-style "snow flowers" by Ohara Jigoemon XVI

History of Mingei Movement 

The inspiration for the exhibition Beauty and Faith: Mingei and the Essence of Japanese Art comes from the Mingei Movement which started in the late 1920s to 30s in Japan. Led by the philospher Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961), together with potters Kawai Kanjiro and Hamada Shoji, the movement aimed to celebrate and spread the beauty of the hand-crafted art of ordinary people. Yanagi named traditional Japanese art objects made by ordinary people “mingei”, and enthusiastically collected mingei works as well as other works that exhibit the beauty of daily life art.

The Mingei Movement challenged society's narrow definition of art. Traditionally, many people think of art as something produced only by artisans, separated from functional items produced by ordinary craftsmen. Mingei instead focuses on everyday objects as opposed to highly refined works of art produced by professional artists, highlighting the rich culture embedded in traditional Japanese handicrafts. The movement also can be seen as a response to the rapid industralisation in Japan as it stresses on the uniqueness of things made by the hands of the common people, rather than those produced in factories. 

Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961) was the philosopher who led the Mingei Movement in the late 1920s to 30s in Japan

The Influence of Mingei Movement
The Mingei Movement became a channel through which traditional Japanese arts could be passed down the generations, and offers glimpses into the folkloric, ethnic and regional culture of Japan. The fundamental nature of handicrafts in the veins of the spirit of the Mingei Movement emphasizes living in harmony and in pursuit of beauty.

People in Oriental culture have a long history of being in tune with the fine intricacies of nature, and it was “intuition” that helped the development of Oriental art and handicraft as well. The nature of Oriental art and Mingei has a shared spirit of nature and beauty.

The Mingei Movement celebrates the beauty of functional items produced by ordinary craftsmen

Nowadays, due to the rapid change in craftsman environment, including nature, social situation, technique, and materials, it is hard for present artists to accomplish the way Yanagi desired. However, the spirit of Mingei still lives on in the pursuit of beauty in hand-crafted works by individual artists. Charisteristics of Mingei are handed down from generation to generation and then blended into the original artworks with traces of Mingei in its shape, process, technique, application and so on. As artists inherit of the elegance and style from Japanese Art, the spirit of Mingei is still essential to the Japanese creative world today.


Exhibition highlight: Yoridokoro. Oguro ArisaWorks

In this year's IAF, WADO PROJECT presents representative ceramic, lacquer, metal working, wood and bamboo artists, calligraphers from Japan who embrace nature in their relentless quest for beauty through their hand-crafted works of art in this day and age, almost 100 years since the Mingei Movement began.

The exhibition will feature two major themes– Buddhism and Japanese tea culture. These two elements are both crucial to Japanese culture and to other Asian cultures as well.

Highlights from Buddhism theme

Yanagi discovered Buddhism through his friend Daisetz, leading him into the world of Buddhist philosophy. Highly influenced by Buddhist theories, Yanagi loved works of art dedicated Buddhism.

One of the highlights under the theme of Buddhism is Shiko Munakata's (1903-1975) OMODAKA-NO-SAKU, created in 1977. Female figures appear frequently in Munakata’s works, symbolizing procreation and life. Munakata offers his personal vision of the mystery of the cosmos and the vibrant energy of life in his works.

Shiko Munakata's OMODAKA-NO-SAKU (1977)

Another highlight is Ichimu Yokoyama's (1911-2000) KANNON STATUE. The statue is made with rare Jindai Keyaki zelkova wood which comes from a tree that has been buried in the earth since over 1,000 years ago. Yokoyama is known for his use of wood together with wood grain. His works are recognised for their achievements in bringing the techniques of wood carvers into the world of art crafts. 

Ichimu Yokoyama's KANNON STATUE

Highlights from Tea Culture theme

Tea is a prominent part of everyday life in Japan. Under the theme of Japanese tea culture, WADO PROJECT brings us a Tatami space in Tokonoma style along with a Japanese alcove and a tea utensil shelf for the audience to experience Japanese tea culture and traditional hospitality. One of the exhibits you can see is Hata Shunsai III’s SENMON Fuji shaped iron kettle. The Hata Family has been making iron tea utensils for Japanese tea masters for more than 300 years and on display at the IAF is work by the first sucessor of Hata Shunsai I. 

Hata Shunsai III’s SENMON Fuji shaped iron kettle

Hata Shunsai III

Wakamiya Takashi's Tatara-bow tea bowl

Other tea utensils on show include Wakamiya Takashi's Tenmoku tea bowl which is made with lacquer and Tanabe Chikuunsai IV’s bamboo flower vase and Murata Yoshihiko's Silhouette-Sobietatsu. Decorations are extremely important to the tea culture in Japan as they provide a calming environment for meditation. 

Murata Yoshihiko's Silhouette-Sobietatsu

Tanabe Chikuunsai IV’s Mononofu, a bamboo flower vase

To see more Japanese works of art and crafts, don't forget to visit the exhibition Beauty and Faith: Mingei and the Essence of Japanese Art at the International Antiques Fair in Hong Kong. There will be lectures by Japanese artists on various topics, check out lecture details below and make registration for you interested ones.

The 12th Edition International Antiques Fair (2019)

24th May (opening night for VIPs) | 6pm - 9pm (By invitation only)
25th - 27th May | 11am - 7pm
28th May | 11am - 5pm

Venue: Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, Hall 5BC
Address: 1 Expo Drive, Wanchai, Hong Kong
Free admission for the public (except the opening night)

Lectures by artists featured in WADO project