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

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!


Bookmark and Share

Free Shipping at Jcollector and Jtansu

ACT NOW! During the next 24-HOURS, we’re offering FREE SHIPPING on ALL FURNITURE, ART AND ANTIQUES at www.jcollector.com and www.jtansu.com.  (Offer ends Thursday, March 5, midnight.)

Running late?  On SELECT ITEMS (all non-furniture and many furniture pieces), we’ll extend FREE SHIPPING THROUGH THE MONTH OF MARCH.  Look for the green truck icon!

Need more convincing?  Check out our HUGE selection of SALE items, marked down 20-40%.  There’s no better time to buy!

Hurry to www.jcollector.com and www.jtansu.com, your online centers for quality Japanese and Asian art, antiques and furniture, to receive FREE SHIPPING anywhere within the continental USA and GREAT DISCOUNTS.

As always, we thank you for your business.  Our customers are the best!


Bookmark and Share

Free Shipping through August

With fuel prices as they are now, there’s nothing like FREE SHIPPING!

Jcollector and Jtansu are offering FREE SHIPPING throughout the month of August.  This means that on the purchase of a formidable kitchen tansu, for example, you can save over $500 in transportation costs!

Smaller (but no less desirable!) items are included in this promotion, so it’s the perfect time to add to your Japanese tea ceremony, doll, or okimono collection.

To make things even more interesting, many items (including furniture) are on sale. Double your savings by taking advantage of both promotions.

What’s a Getabako?

Everyone needs a getabako. What an invention! The Japanese shoe chest (geta = shoe, bako = box) is a must in any household.


It’s a cupboard traditionally used to store shoes removed while at home. In Japan , you’ll usually find it at the entrance way or on the porch. Near it, you might find a slipper rack, where you can select something more comfortable for wearing instead.

Antique getabako are usually constructed of fragrant cedar wood, but often have lovely bamboo, bone or richly grained wood accents.

Two things to consider when purchasing:

How many pairs of shoes will it hold?

Since this is one of our most popular tansu, we get a lot of feedback from our customers. Many clients buy a small getabako first, then find they need a larger one as they misjudged the size of that pile of shoes that oddly grows at entranceways and in bedrooms everywhere.

Will my shoes fit comfortably?

Today’s feet are generally larger than those for which an antique getabako was originally crafted. If Big Foot lives in your home, keep in mind that the depth of the shoe tansu is an important consideration!

To view all the fine getabako available at Jcollector/Jtansu click here.


Bookmark and Share

Japanese Lacquerware at Jcollector

Recently we traveled to Japan and New York where, among other items, we found some exceptional lacquerware.
Lacquer has played an important part in Japanese culture for more than two thousand years but came into full bloom during the Edo period (1603-1868).  The finished product is so sublime as to appear simple to produce, but lacquer craftsmanship is perhaps the most complex of all Japan’s artistic traditions. For example, just creating a black- or red-lacquer ground can require as many as 30 stages, including the application of increasingly fine grades of lacquer mixed with different powders and then several additional layers of even higher-quality lacquer.

On our trip, we came across several sets of covered bowls,

delicately rendered serving trays,


accessories for use in the Japanese tea ceremony such as natsume and kogo,


storage boxes for letters, make-up or keepsakes,

and inro,

the decorative containers traditionally worn at the belt of the samurai to carry pills, ink, seals and other necessities.

You’ll find a great website for information on Japanese lacquerware at the following link:
http://www.kougei.or.jp/english/lacquer.html

Also, Daruma magazine, Issue 33, gives a detailed explanation of lacquer methods, materials, tools and processes.


Bookmark and Share