Mingei, Japanese Folk Art

Japanese Lacquer Sake Barrel, Iwaidaru for Wedding

Japanese Lacquer Sake Barrel, Iwaidaru for Wedding

We at Jcollector have currently been enjoying a variety of summer fairs and festivals throughout California and around the country. Summer is a fantastic time for celebrating traditions and culture. Japanese festivals and community events abound, and allow us to share in and enjoy Japan’s rich heritage. They are also a great way to learn about Japan’s varied arts movements and the objects which illustrate them.

For example, we thought this week’s blog should be about Mingei, or Japanese folk art. Mingei literally means “art of the common folk.” The word was invented in 1925, by Yanagi Soetsu, a philosopher and art critic, who established the folk art movement in Japan with two of his ceramicist friends, Hamada Shoji and Kawai Kanjiro.

Japanese Lacquer and Wood Rice Barrel

Japanese Lacquer and Wood Rice Barrel

The main distinction between Mingei and fine art is that the term “fine art” usually refers to objects with decorative or aesthetic value. Fine art objects are primarily pieces with little to no functional use. Mingei pieces are almost always functional and have purpose beyond their decorative appeal.  An example might be the Japanese lacquer barrels and flasks that were used to hold food and drink, such as rice and sake.

Much as in the U.S., late 19th-century Japan’s regional craft work diminished as mass production and standardization of economical goods increased. At this time, the Japanese government encouraged creation of easily produced, less expensive items and, consequently, handmade pieces became harder and harder to come by. Soetsu was deeply concerned with the negative consequences of industrialization, and he championed a return to and appreciation of traditional Japanese craftwork.

Japanese Tamba Ceramic Tokkuri Sake Bottle

Japanese Tamba Ceramic Tokkuri Sake Bottle

Soetsu passionately encouraged the Japanese to respect and enjoy high-quality, traditional handmade crafts.  He is almost solely responsible for keeping regional craft work in high demand and continual production.  Additionally, through his famous book, The Unknown Craftsman, he introduced Japan’s rich heritage of folk and craft art to the West. Soetsu, Shoji and Kanjiro also founded Nihon Mingei Kyokai, the Japan Folk Art Association, and have published a journal, Mingei, since 1931, which is still in circulation today. Their famous collection of Mingei objects can currently be seen in their museum, the Nihon Mingeikan, in Komaba, Tokyo.

Japanese School House Soroban Abacus, Meiji

Japanese School House Soroban Abacus, Meiji

Other examples of Mingei that can be found on Jcollector are this old schoolhouse abacus or soroban and the exquisite Japanese woven copper basket below, which was used to securely transport keepsakes and valuables. These pieces are particularly special because they were used frequently and often had various owners. They are valuable collector’s items because they have been so well cared for throughout the years and now serve as unique symbols of the Japanese Folk Art Movement.

Japanese Woven Copper Basket with Lid

Japanese Woven Copper Basket with Lid

Can’t make it to Japan?  Try the Mingei International Museum located in San Diego, California, to see all manner of Mingei, Japanese folk art.

The Japanese Garden

Japanese GardenSummer is finally upon us! Flowers are blooming, plants are flourishing, and many of us are spending more and more time outdoors and in our yards. We at Jcollector feel there’s no better time for a blog addressing the fascinating history and essential elements of the Japanese garden.

Traditional Japanese gardens include a variety of features with particular forms and functions. They typically surround a home, shrine or central structure and often feature elements such as water, real or symbolic, rock or stone arrangements, and stone or metal lanterns like the one shown to the right.

Japanese Stone Lantern, Antique Garden Ishidoro

Often, Japanese gardens showcase teahouses or pavilions, and perimeters such as hedges or fences. They frequently include bridges to islands or ornamental mounds and stepping stones for viewing the surroundings from various vantage points.

Three of the most established styles of Japanese gardens are Karesansui, Tsukiyama and Chaniwa gardens. The Karesansui or “dry landscape” garden was primarily influenced by Zen Buddhism and can be found at most Zen temples throughout Japan. Unlike other traditional gardens, in Karesansui gardens no water is present. However, raked gravel or sand evokes the feeling of water. The stones and gravel are chosen for their shape, and mosses, small shrubs and other plants are utilized for further embellishment. Great attention is given to the placement of these objects as they represent ponds, islands, boats, seas, rivers, and mountains.

Zen GardenTsukiyama Gardens imitate famous landscapes. They are often used strategically to make smaller gardens appear larger. Shrubs deliberately block views of surrounding buildings, and the garden’s layout customarily draws the viewer’s focus to distant mountains or vistas. Ponds, streams, hills, stones, trees, flowers, bridges, and paths occupy this style of garden.

Japanese Stone Tsukubai, Antique Garden Basin

Japanese Stone Tsukubai, Antique Garden Basin

Chaniwa Gardens are designed for the Japanese Tea Ceremony. These feature tea houses, stepping stones, stone lanterns and basins (tsukubai), like this one offered at Jcollector.  These are normally situated at the structure’s entrance so that visitors may purify themselves in the traditional manner before the ceremony.

Gardens designed in Japanese style were first documented in the Asuka period (538-710). The Japanese would utilize their gardens to express reflections on Buddhism and Taoism, often stylistically replicating mountainous regions in China. Today, these gardens, though in ruins, can still be visited in Japan’s castle towns, Fujiwara and Heijyo.

During the Heian period (794-1185), Japanese gardens became increasing popular as places of ceremony and contemplation. Those who could afford to build gardens showed a renewed interest in traditional Japanese style and culture that resulted in an elegant synthesis of Chinese custom and Japanese style. This combination was known as Shinden. Their gardens reflected elements of myth and legend. For example, streams always ran from east to west because in ancient Chinese lore, the East was the source of purity and the West the outlet of impurities.

During the Kamakura era (1185-1392), gardens burgeoned due to improved garden techniques. Zen beliefs were also flourishing at the time and greatly influenced garden theory, practice and purpose. Zen Buddhist priests began creating gardens for meditation instead of entertainment. Meditative qualities were valued over decorativeness. Gardens in this age tended to include stones, water and evergreens, remaining constant throughout the year.

Hira-niwa garden

Hira-niwa Garden

In the Muromachi (1392-1573) and Higashiyama (1392-1573) periods, minimalism intensified and many gardens contained only stones. Created in the style of the monochrome landscape paintings popular during the time, these gardens used specially selected stones as symbols. The flat garden, or Hira-niwa, also became fashionable.

Gardens constructed in the Edo period (1603-1868) reflected the tastes and style of individual shogun rulers who were the military dictators governing at various times throughout Japan’s history. Their gardens, instead of functioning as religious symbols, highlighted prestige and power. Considered royal gardens, they were vibrant and lush, full of hills, waterfalls, and a vast variety of plants. Also, walking gardens were conceived, constructed and designed to be aesthetically pleasing from any angle. Paths were woven into garden layouts.

Japanese Blue-and-White Porcelain Hibachi or Jardiniere

Japanese Blue-and-White Porcelain Hibachi or Jardiniere

JCollector offers a wide variety of Japanese garden elements. During this time of backyard barbeques and outdoor activity, these serve both as aesthetic enhancements and evocations of Japanese culture in any garden. Japanese hibachi make excellent jardinière for the patio or deck.

 Japanese Stone Garden Jizo

Japanese Stone Garden Jizo

Garden Jizo or guardian spirits  stand vigil over garden parties or quiet contemplation. Japanese rain chains  not only catch the eye, but are music to the ear as water courses through them during rain storms. We at Jcollector are pleased to be able to carry on the tradition of the Japanese garden by making a great selection of its charming essentials available for yours!

Japanese Copper Rain Chain, Blossoms

Japanese Copper Rain Chain, Blossoms

Japanese Iron Lantern, Tea Garden Andon Lamp

Japanese Iron Lantern, Tea Garden Andon Lamp

Free Shipping and Sale at Jtansu and Jcollector

Free Shipping and Sale at Jtansu and Jcollector

Please join us for Jcollector’s and Jtansu’s  JUNE TANSU SALE  !  You’ll save plenty with our FREE SHIPPING offer on all items throughout the month (continental USA).  As a bonus, we’ve also greatly discounted many items on BOTH Jtansu and Jcollector. Our free shipping offer, in combination with our special sale prices, makes it possible to purchase the finest Japanese antiques and furniture at the LOWEST PRICES ever!

In addition, we plan on having our warehouse open again most Saturdays throughout the summer from 11 a.m.-4 p.m.  If you’re in the area, please drop in, but phone ahead just to be sure!

For traditional Japanese furniture and home furnishings, there’s no place like www.jtansu.com.  And, for a vast selection of Japanese antiques, fine art and accessories, don’t forget to visit www.jcollector.com.

The Art of Ikebana

Ikebana ArrangementRecently at Jcollector, we’ve been studying Ikebana, the unique Japanese art of flower arranging, and featuring displays in our warehouse gallery. Unlike Western arrangements, in which flowers and plants are assembled in bouquets, Ikebana highlights stems and leaves as much as blooms. Ikebana arrangements focus on form. Artists pay careful attention to shape and line, and their goal is to achieve balance and harmony both within their arrangements and within their lives. Silence is generally observed during the practice of Ikebana. Artists take time to appreciate nature and consider natural elements more deeply. Often, practitioners feel that they become increasingly patient and tolerant of differences during their practice, and they begin to discover beauty in unexpected places. In addition, practicing Ikebana often gives artists a feeling that they are close to nature, that they are relaxed in mind, body, and soul.

Ikebana ArrangementIkebana’s origin can be traced back more than 600 years. It developed from various Buddhist rituals in which flowers were offered to spirits of the dead. In the mid-1400s, classical styles of Ikebana emerged and the practice became an art form, independent of its religious origins. The first teachers and students were priests and members of the nobility. However, over time, various schools appeared, styles transformed, and Ikebana became common practice at all levels of Japanese society.

Today, over a dozen schools of Ikebana offer different philosophies and approaches to this ancient art. Foremost among them are Ikenobo, Ohara and Sogetsu, which range from strictly formalized arrangements to free style.

Japanese Tea Ceremony Gourd Vase for Ikebana

Japanese Tea Ceremony Gourd Vase for Ikebana

The oldest school is the Ikenobo School. Headmasters of Ikenobo famously developed the very formal and precise Rikka style of Ikebana. Rikka arrangements are often quite large and complex. In fact, an early recording mentions two arrangements featured in seven-foot-tall vases reaching forty-feet-high at the great Buddha located in Nara, Japan, in 1693. Overall, Rikka arrangements are microcosms, which represent the entire universe through the image of a landscape. Their chief characteristics are asymmetry, symbolism, and spatial depth.

Ikebana ArrangementAlmost concurrently in the mid-14th century, the Japanese tea ceremony appeared. The tea ceremony’s emphasis on rustic simplicity contrasted sharply with the ornate Rikka. This led to the emergence of a “thrown in” style called Nageire. Then, in the seventeenth century, the merchant class grew increasingly prominent and developed a simplified version of Rikka, which became the Shoka style. Shoka offered limitless possibilities for variation. It is characterized by a tight bundle of stems which form a triangular three-branch asymmetrical structure, the three branches symbolizing ten (heaven), chi (earth), and jin (human being). Variations of this form have become the basis of all Ikebana instruction, even in the most modern schools, such as Sogetsu.

Japanese Bamboo Basket for Ikebana

Japanese Bamboo Basket for Ikebana

Jcollector’s interest in Ikebana has prompted us to offer an exciting array of exquisite baskets, vases and suiban perfect for Japanese flower arranging. Because Ikebana pieces are so visually unique, they are best presented in vessels that complement their simplicity. Baskets often serve to further anchor the arrangements to nature. Tall, thin vases complement minimalist arrangements. Wide basins allow for large, dramatic displays. We encourage our clients to experiment with this practice and find out what kind of arrangements best suit their homes and tastes.
Our favorite English-language books about Ikebana are Ikebana, the Art of Arranging Flowers, by Shozo Sato, and Ikebana, Japanese Flower Arranging for Today’s Interior, by Diane Norman and Michelle Cornell.

$75 Discount if You Follow Us on Facebook or Twitter

Take advantage of our introductory Facebook and Twitter offer! All who log onto our Facebook page and click on the “Like” button or start following us on Twitter will receive $75 off on any purchase through June!

Now you can follow Jcollector and Jtansu on Facebook and Twitter, anywhere, anytime!

You’ll be able to track our latest shipments and listings as well as receive advance notice of sales and unique promotional opportunities.



To redeem your $75 discount, please enter the V75 code in the coupon box at checkout or call us at 888.991.9096.

We are always striving to make Jcollector and Jtansu better and more responsive to your needs. Please, give us your feedback and tell us how to make our Facebook and Twitter pages useful and informative.

Jcollector, Jtansu New Shipment and Sale through May

Hurry now to www.jcollector.com and www.jtansu.com, your online centers for Japanese and Asian art, antiques and furniture.  We have just received an exceptional new shipment of fine tansu and extraordinary antique objects.

Japanese Bunraku Theater Puppet Head, Samurai Warrior

Japanese Bunraku Theater Puppet Head, Samurai Warrior

In addition, we are offering GREAT DISCOUNTS and FREE SHIPPING on many items in all categories. Our free shipping offer, in combination with our special sale prices, makes it possible to purchase the finest Japanese antiques  at the LOWEST PRICES ever!

Visit us now at www.jcollector.comwww.jtansu.com, where you’ll find superior quality and a vast selection, making online shopping for Japanese and Asian fine art and antiques a pleasure and a breeze.

As always, we thank you for your business!


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ARCHITECTURAL DIGEST Features Jcollector’s Hagoita

Japanese Hagoita New Years Paddle

Thank you Architectural Digest for featuring one of Jcollector’s fabulous antique hagoita New Year’s paddles in your August, 2009, issue! Readers, you can view it on page 64 in the “Discoveries by Designers” section. As a result of AD’s interest, we have had a run on these wonderful items and are actively searching for others to replenish our inventory.

Traditional Japanese hagoita are wooden paddles used for a game called hanetsuki, which is similar to badminton. Each December, hagoita markets open in Japan selling these charming New Year’s gifts for girls. A market near Toyko’s Senso-ji temple in Asakusa is perhaps Japan’s oldest (founded 350 years ago during the Edo period) and most famous. It is typically held annually from December 17-19.

Japanese Hagoita New Year’s Paddle, Wisteria Maiden

Antique hagoita come in all sizes and are crafted with one side of handpainted wood (used to hit the shuttlecock) and another, even more decorative side, of finely rendered silk and other fabrics skillfully fashioned in high relief to represent well-known Kabuki theater figures. The older ones are highly valued and in great demand as wall hangings or dramatic decorative elements in any environment.

Check back often at Jcollector, as we are regularly updating our selection of antique hagoita!


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