Founded by philosopher Soetsu Yanagi in 1936, the museum aims to promote an appreciation for the beauty of “mingei” – or “folk crafts. Distinct from the fine arts, mingei refers to simple, everyday objects which are made by hand in the traditional way using natural materials. The museum houses about 17,000 pieces collected from Japan, Korea, China, Europe, the United States and elsewhere. In addition to ceramics, textiles, woodwork and paintings, works by early members of the mingei movement are also housed at the museum, including potters Kanjiro Kawai and Shoji Hamada, woodcut print artist Shiko Munakata, and Keisuke Serizawa, a master of textile dyeing.
The two-story old wing including the display cases were designed by Yanagi to complement the mingei aesthetic, using natural light and materials to create a warm, organic space. Yanagi’s residence now serves as the West Hall of the museum and is open for viewing on the second Wednesday and Saturday and the third Wednesday and Saturday of the month.