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M. EDER
NOTES ON JAPANESE FOLK ART.
On Munsterberg's book THE FOLK ARTS OF
JAPAN and relevant matters
and problems
By M. Eder, Tokyo
In writing his book on the folk arts of Japan1, H. Munsterberg kept close
contact with the aims and activities of the Japanese Folk Art Museum in
T6ky6 and followed the work of its founder and director Dr. Soetsu Yanagi,
enjoying thus the best of guidance for his task. The promoters of the Japa-
nese folk rt movement look at the folk arts from the purely aesthetic point
of view, finding in them the revelation of a direct, simple and honest beauty
which deserves appreciation by modern artists as an artistic ideal. Miinster-
berg identifies himself with Yanagi when he writes : " Folk art is not, as
some authors have suggested, merely an unsophisticated reflection of the
culture of the cities, but an indigenous creation of the ordinary people of
small towns and villages, especially, those who are cut off from the main
stream of urban civilization. This does not mean that they are wholly iso-
lated-for the dominant culture no doubt influences and modifies their work
-but folk art has a tradition which has remained unchanged over generations,
sometimes even centuries, so that it is impossible to date it with accuracy."
Referring to the tradition of folk art, Munsterberg touches on the very
essence of folk art, the definition of which has presented a vexing problem
to Western folklore scientists for quite a long time, as a brief look into perti-
1) Hugo Miinsterberg: The Folk Arts of Japan. With Preface by Soetsu Yanagi. 164
pages text and 4 pages index. 110 plates with illustrations, of them 18 color plates and 92 gravure
plates. Charles E. Tuttle Company, Rutland, Vermont, U.S.A., and Tokyo, Japan, 1958. Prize:
in the Far East Y2,000, $5.50. In the U.S.A. $6.75.
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NOTES ON JAPANESE FOLK ART
229
nent topics discussed in Germany can show us. The central question con-
cerning folk art, be it the German, the Japanese or any other, is whether
folk art is an art entirely and essentially different from so-called high art or
art that is no more than popularized high art. The question of what folk
art is goes together with the question of folk culture. This question may
pose itself in a different way among different nations. In answering such
questions as to the nature of folk art and folk culture, the peculiar situation
of a given nation must be given due consideration. Adolf Spamer writes
that the art of the German people was in its beginning differentiated only
according to different tribes and regions. During many centuries this art
became further differentiated according to different cultural centers, such as
the many courts of medieval rulers, monasteries, metropolitan churches,
centers of bishoprics, and castles. Later, with the formation of an urban
culture with its organizations of craftsmen, art became again the affair of the
common citizens and was no longer the privilege of the ecclesiastic and
secular aristocracy. Works of art became finally the achievements of in-
dividual artists rather than of a whole class of craftsmen. The art of these
craftsmen was degraded through the general industrialisation during the nine-
teenth century to an insignificant position. Spamer himself did painstaking
research work on the folk arts of Hessen and summarizes his findings as
follows : the current of art activities of cities reached rural communities,
was assimilated by them into the world of their own tastes and ideas, and this
assimilation and amalgamation of old and new elements produced something
of a new kind of art. The basic local element remained always unchanged.
Its various combinations with lements borrowed from the changing trends
of urban artistic centers resulted in many new units. An eternal basic ele-
ment of local art can always be found whether objects of art were produced
by creative talents or by simple immitators. Thus present-day folk art
underwent a long process of evoluti~n.~
2) Adolf Spamer, Hessische Volkskunst. Jena 1939 ; p. 109 @., ,,Ruckblick und Ausblick."
3) Konrad Hahm, Grundziige der deutschen Volkskunst. In : Die deutscbe Vo~kskunde,by
various authors under the direction of Adolf Spamer. Vol. 1, Berlin 1934, p. 402.
4) In this way we may perhaps render the meaning of the German " die gestaltende Arbeit
der volkstiimlichen und volkslautigen Handwerkskultur."
I<onrad Hahm3 takes as folk art
the products of th; culture of craftsmen among common people in so far as
these products possess decorations and embellishments which originate in
and appeal to common pe~ple.~Hahm is further of the opinion that folk
art is at home among the farming population of the countryside and that it
is bound to the needs of rural communities. He finds that the long line of
its history begins with Germanic rural art, the forms and ornaments of which
stayed alive until the nineteenth century. The ornaments of folk art, Hahm
writes, are not to be disconnected from folk beliefs and custonls. Art, be-
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M. EDER
lief, and customs have to be studied as one entity from prehistoric and proto-
historic times on down to present-day rural art. Forms of art objects cannot
be analyzed in themselves as separate from the purpose and meaning of
objects of arts. A mere psychological and phenomenological treatment of
them is impossible. Both objects and their artistic form are founded upon
customs and ceremonies of the annual life cycle and in usages and practices
that mark important events of the span of life of individual members of the
community. In this way products of artistic craftsmenship come under
laws of a definite and constant cultural and spiritual world. These objects,
sometimes with a deep prehistoric background; are therefore interesting items
for research in myths and religious symbols.
According to Richard Weiss5 a steady mutual exchange goes on between
individualized and community bound folk cultures This author is of the
opinion that folk culture does not belong only to a certain class, but its sub-
ject is the whole nation, whose members share the folk culture in a different
degree. Thus a nation consists not of two layers, upper class and folk, but
upper class and folk are intensely indented, not existing side by side as two
entities with clear-cut differences in their respective cultures, educational
levels, and customs. This new concept of folk culture may be called the
most progressive one ; it applies also to folk art.
But leaving the whole problem of what folk art really is aside for further
discussion and clarification, we may safely give a preliminary definition of
folk art by exclusion, that is by saying what it is not. Folk art is not an
individual art and is not a product of modem industry. Stated positively
we may say that folk art is a complex thing which has grown in a nation in
the course of that nation's cultural history. In this way we have at least
marked out the field from which to start. To analyze and define the elements
of a nation's folk art is the task for the Science of Folklore, in particular, of
the Science of Folk Art.
hliinsterberg, together with the former and present entire community
of native researchers having the Japanese Folk Art hluseum as the center
of their activity, are not much concerned with the history of the Japanese
folk arts and the history of Japanese culture. Their approach is aesthetic.
In a way we can say they are siding with a certain school of high art or in-
dividualistic art which finds its ideal of beauty materialized in the objects
of folk art. Stith Thompson speaks of the romantic interest in primitivism
to which he attributes the great advances that have been made in the study
of folklore.6 hliinsterberg himself mentions outstanding artists who were
5) Richard Wein, Volkskunde der Schweiz. Erlenbach-Ziirich 1946 ; p. 46.
6) Stith Thompson : Advances in Folklore Studies. In : Anthropology Todq. An Encpclo-
pedic Inventory Prepared under the Chairmanship of A. L. Icroeber. The University of Chicago
Press, Third Impression 1955 ; p. 588.
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NOTES ON JAPANESE FOLK ART
231
so impressed by the freshness and simplicity of the art of primitives that
they settled down among them, Paul Gauguin in Tahiti and Robert Louis
Stevenson in Samoa, to learn from them. In Japan many artists have been
inspired by folk art and now produces works of a similar directness and
vitality. Miinsterberg writes of four high class artists that they have tumed
folk artists. Shoji Hamada became potter in a village in Tochigi Prefecture
where a flourishing pottery existed for several centuries. Kanjiro Kawai,
too, became a folk potter. Keisuke Serizawa is a modem folk dyer who has
revived and now continues old traditions from Okinawa. Shiko Munakata
is very active as a modern printmaker following folk traditions. These
four artists are doing consciously what folk artists always have done un-
consciously. In Japan high art and folk art have found a common ground,
at least in a few areas. This was made possible because folk art in Japan
is still alive, though on a side-track where modern industry has pushed it.
Though we look in vain through the entire Yanagi school for historical
studies, we must credit the great merit of the extensive surveys made of folk
arts still practiced. Miinsterberg presents Japanese folk art production under
the heading of Pottery-Baskets and Related Objects-Lacquer Ware, Wooden
Ware, Metalwork-Toys-Textiles-Painting and Sculpture-Peasant Houses.
He describes the present state of the vitality of each of these groups of folk
art production. There are still 50 active folk kilns. Basketry is still practiced
in KyGshG and Northeastern Japan. Straw-hats for folk dances and deco-
rations on straw rain-coats (mino) are still manufactured for their local markets.
Hand-made paper has not yet disappeared in the prefectures of KBchi and
Gifu, and in districts of KyiishG and Sanin. Since lacquer ware could not
stand competition with porcelain, only a few centers of production have
survived. Of about 100 centers of toy production in the Tokugawa period
many are still working. It should be mentioned that more than in any other
field of folk art, numerous elements from the history of Japanese religion
and culture have been assembled in the field of toys. Among such elements
are old Japanese and Buddhist tales and legends, magic, and belief in spirits,
demons and ghosts. In textiles Okinawa still plays a vital role, combining
Chinese and Japanese motifs. In Northeastern Japan we can still see designs
that originate in the old Heian culture and in that of the Momoyama time.
Everywhere in the country old symbolic motifs, mostly of Chinese origin,
from KyBto and other art centers, are still enjoyed. Northeastern Japan
and Shikoku are still rich in local textile industries. Painting and sculpture
are serving practical needs, mostly religious, and are rural, primitive, and
crude adaptations of urban models. Folk painting has existed since the seven-
teenth century. The best known pictures are the Otsu-e, pictures from Otsu
near Lake Biwa in Central Japan. They were at first religious, later secular.
They are the co nterpart of the professional high art productions of the
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232
M. EDER
Ukiyo-e in Edo. Today they are no longer made. However, still made
everywhere in great numbers are the so-called Ema, ex voto pictures, to be
hung in ShintB shrines and Buddhist temples, and we have seen some also
on horse-stables. The stone carvings, to be found in the whole country
at roadsides and village boundaries, were mostly made some time in the Edo
period and represent such gods as JizB, Seimen Kongo, DBsojin, and Bud-
dhas and Bodhisattvas. The horse-headed Icannon, the tombstone for
horses, also has a wide distribution. In Nagano Prefecture we have seen
many relief sculptures in stone of Daikoku, a god of luck, in a clearly defined
local style and some of them of recent make (Fig. 1). Quite interesting are
the local types of DBsojin, a road god having many other functions. On
Izu Peninsula where each village has several of them, DBsojin looks like
a feudal official of the Tokugawa era, whereas in Nagano Prefecture we saw
Dbsojin stone reliefs showing a couple in intimate conjugal union (Fig. 2). The
god is also the patron of conjugal harmony and of peace in the family. In
the old province of Kai, DBsojin is represented simply by a round-shaped
stone or a pile of four stones. In Nagano Prefecture, Icamiina District, we
saw many DBsojin which were either huge stone monuments with the charac-
ters for DBsojin chiselled on them, or smaller monuments of a roundish
shape on which the name DBsojin was chiselled in a peculiar calligraphic
pattern. The popular Buddhist iconography consists of more or less skillful
immitations of standardized representations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas at
the great temples of Nara. In Kanagi Village, Nishitsugaru District, Aomori
Prefecture, a remote village on the northernmost tip of Honshii, we saw a
great number of stone carved JizB assembled in a Jizb Hall. They are ex-
tremely crudely done and a few colors are painted on them. Their primitive
artistic features resemble in some way the old Haniwa figures of the Tumuli
(kojiin) period. In their na'ivetee and in their religious function as voitif
figures in the care for the dead, they give a pitiful yet charming and cosy
impression.
We agree of course with Munsterberg that the peasant house deserves
to be treated as an object of folk art. In its setting as a part of the surround-
ing landscape and in many details of its construction the farmhouse offers
a pleasing sight. The roof, the partition of the interior, the garden in front
of the rooms, the contrast between the dark timber and the sliding doors
of white paper or between the wooden framework of the construction and
the white plaster on the walls produce a picturesque effect. Further artistic
elements are the fine forms into which the reed-grass or the rice-straw of the
roof thatching has been smoothly cut with huge scissors, all these forms
differing from region to region, according to the traditions of the local
craftsmen who are mostly professional or semiprofessional roof thatchers.
There is nothing pretentious about a farmhouse ; everything is there for an
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