Tribal carpets and textiles have been enthusiastically collected by connoisseurs and ordinary people in Europe and the U.S. for years. In contrast, tribal carpets and textiles did not gain the attention of the majority of Japanese. However, some Japanese, especially Yanagi Muneyoshi and his friends in the Mingei circle, notably Hamada Shoji, Serizawa Keisuke, and Tonomura Kichinosuke, collected tribal carpets and textiles from the mid-20th century onward. I focused on this little-known fact and explored how and in what circumstances these textiles were collected in my paper presented at the recent TSA Symposium.
As I have discussed elsewhere, Indian and Persian carpets were brought to Edo-period Japan by the Dutch East India Company and used for special occasions such as festivals. Then, from the early 20th century, a privileged few, such as aristocrats, scholars, and businessmen, had the chance to visit Europe and the U.S. and became exposed to carpets as daily furnishings. Some brought tribal carpets and textiles back to Japan. While several Japanese handbooks on the use of carpet as interior decoration were published in the 1920s, most Japanese were unfamiliar with this type of furnishing. It was in this context that Yanagi Muneyoshi found beauty in carpet designs and came to regard carpets and tribal textiles as idealized artifacts.
As I demonstrated in this paper, Yanagi’s attitude toward carpet was similar to that of William Morris who also highly valued Oriental carpets and gained inspiration from them. Yanagi’s friends and followers in the Mingei Movement also collected carpets as idealized handicrafts and as a source of inspiration. Yanagi wished to “make the world more beautiful” and he wanted to show that “it was impossible to understand beauty apart from daily life.” In a similar vein, Morris said that we should not put things in our homes that are not useful or beautiful. It is interesting that both of them valued and used Oriental carpet in their daily life. Thus it could be said that carpet is the object that epitomizes the thought of both Yanagi and Morris on the idealized beauty of handicrafts.
Yumiko Kamada’s presentation, “Tribal Textiles and the Mingei Circle in Japan: Yanagi Muneyoshi’s Views on Carpet” was a Founding Presidents Award nominee at the TSA Hidden Story/Human Lives Virtual Symposium in October 2020.
Yumiko Kamada is an associate professor at Keio University. She received her PhD from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University in 2011. She specializes in Islamic art history, especially Indian and Persian carpets and textiles. Her book, Jutan ga musubu sekai: Kyoto Gion Matsuri Indo jutan e no michi (Carpets That Connect the World: Indian Carpets and Their Journey toward the Kyoto Gion Festival, The University of Nagoya Press, 2016), received several awards including the Japan Academy Award.