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The Beauty of Everyday Things

3.51  ·  Rating details ·  479 ratings  ·  56 reviews

The daily lives of ordinary people are replete with objects, common things used in commonplace settings. These objects are our constant companions in life. As such, writes Soetsu Yanagi, they should be made with care and built to last, treated with respect and even affection. They should be natural and simple, sturdy and safe - the aesthetic result of wholeheartedly fulfil

Kindle Edition, Penguin Modern Classics, 316 pages
Published January 31st 2019 by Penguin Classics (first published 2017)
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k sauce Both have different essays, although there is some overlap. It depends really on what you would like to gain from it. The essays in Everyday Things tr…moreBoth have different essays, although there is some overlap. It depends really on what you would like to gain from it. The essays in Everyday Things try to capture the key ideas behind the Japanese Folk-Crafts Movement, as well as much about Japanese aesthetics too. In a way, it covers Yanagi's development of folk craft aesthetics, given its essay on Mokujiki, but the essays aren't in chronological order. There is also an essay on the Folk Craft Museum at the end too and 'A Letter to my Korean Friends' which is Yanagi's response to Japan's treatment of colonial Korea. So if you're more interested in the folk-craft movement, then this collection provides a more insights into the movement and period itself.

The Unknown Craftsman has some overlap as some essays are printed in that too (the kasuri and pattern chapters off the top of my head), but also provides good insight into aesthetics too. The key difference I'd say is UC includes the essay on craftsmanship and what the craftsman should be according to Yanagi (and Leach, given his editorship). I'm also not sure which version of UC you are looking at, but I think most will have the introduction by Leach and potentially another foreword by someone else (I can't remember who exactly). In this way, UC also gives an outsider's view of the movement, especially Leach's relationship with Yanagi, given that Everyday Things only includes essays by Yanagi and nothing more.

Each collection has its nuance, I think if you're after an overview of Japanese folk-craft aesthetics then probably Everyday Things, as that's also more accessible I think. Both include a decent amount that covers the folk craft aesthetics, so it depends on what you're after really. (less)

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Jan 21, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found the title slightly misleading, but as I kept reading the book I began to enjoy it; it gave me a new view on certain objects, and information on the various corners of Japanese Folk Craft (with a little side nod towards such art in Korea, which the author valued highly, as he tells in one text). This book is a collection of the author's writings on the folk art, put not in time order, but in a way that introduces the reading into the subjects before going into various corner, finally endi ...more
Feb 09, 2020 rated it it was ok
You could probably save yourself quite some time by accepting the following 3 sentences instead of reading this whole book:
- Artisan objects are aesthetically superior to classic art objects because of their simplicity
- You will only find perfect artisan objects, there is no such thing as imperfect ones
- Artisan objects are a manifestation of nature's intention.

A lot of truisms in this book, which is something I sometimes find in Japanese writing and do not really enjoy. That intellectualized sk
Jun 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: design
I really enjoyed the meditations on beauty, utility, and intuition. The sense of longing, respect to nature, calm, and search for truth is contagious. The comparisons between Eastern and Western thought are sharp. This edition is a delight to read, typography is generous, keeps the pages turning. I wish there were more pictures, had to keep my computer up close to search for things online. I deeply regret not having read this before my trip to Japan.
Dec 21, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

“It is common knowledge that the mechanisation and commercialisation of industry have resulted in the unending manufacture of poorly made goods. This decline in quality is the result of the excesses of the profit motive, organisational distortions, technical limitations, and much more. Furthermore, the working conditions in factories are oppressive, and workers find their work to be meaningless. Add to this the fact that there are no restrictions on mechanisation, which leads to rampant producti
Aug 10, 2021 rated it liked it
the thinking around design and how industrialisation has damaged craft was sooo interesting but this mf lost me in the last few chapters when he was telling koreans to not rebel against occupying japanese forces WTF was that mf go back to talking about pottery
This book is much, much more niche than the cover blurb sets it up to be - not so much "a heartfelt call for us to deepen our relationship with the objects that surround us" as a selection of nostalgia-tinged, thematically-linked essays on Japanese arts and crafts. It's more a precursor to Alex Kerr's Lost Japan than it is a book about the nature of art and beauty.

There are some interesting bits here, if you're interested in Japanese art (my main goal), but if you're after ruminations on the bea
Jul 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
When seen in the context of the time when these essays were written it's hard to not be in awe of the affection that drove Soetsu Yanagi to pursue the path he so fondly talks of in his writings. The touch of humanity is priceless in his written word. But the book as whole is sometimes too repetitive and the cover and the title are definitely misleading. I would have felt more satisfied if the title was simply Essays by Soetsu Yanagi because I would have expected to read his philosophies and thou ...more
Jun 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
I liked Soetsu Yanagi's voice. I can imagine him wandering all over the Japanese and Korean countryside in his quest to find beauty. A beautiful insight into Japanese philosophy as well as the Soetsu Yanagi's take on political events between Japan and Korea. At times he is repetitive, but I sort of like that about him. It shows obsession, and I think that is one of his most inspirational aspects, his obsession with raw beauty and Zen philosophy.

It is the sort of book that would work well for any
Sep 26, 2020 rated it it was ok
The first 100 pages were good but then it stops being about everyday objects while also being wildly repetitive. And a wee bit pretentious so yeah not my favourite but did enjoy a few of the essays.
May 05, 2019 rated it liked it
A little pretentious, and certain chapters are far more repetitive than they ought to be
Mar 24, 2021 rated it it was ok
While a few essays have interesting thoughts on art and beauty, a lot is very opinionated and repetitive and ultimately boring. Also the order of the essays seems to be a bit random and since basically all texts are almost 100 years old, some historical background would have been great. Definitely less a meditation on everyday objects (as the title suggest) and more a repetitive compilation of one slightly snobbish art critic.
Jess Fowler
Aug 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Having no prior knowledge of any of the subjects meant that this was a pretty intense read but for the most part I enjoyed it. The small size of the book is nice.
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book in spite of the author, who I found to be an insufferable, elitist jerk with no sympathy for the poor. His opinion seems to be that we should pat the peasants on the head and leave them to make their wares exactly as they've always done, because any innovation will spoil the authenticity of the items. I spent almost the entire book being annoyed with his attitude, until chapter 12, when I was shocked that I actually agreed with him that the works of individual artists can be ...more
Marlow Bushman
May 08, 2020 rated it did not like it
I’m definitely the wrong audience for this book. I approached it looking for (and mistakenly expecting) philosophical ideas about the nature of ordinary things. As in, any old ordinary thing. Instead, I pushed through essays about (now) historic Japanese crafts with whiny rhetoric about Japan being superior to the west and deserving more attention. It is not a ‘timeless’ or ‘classic’ collection of essays; it’s very dated and probably only interesting to a pre-20th century Japanese historian. Yan ...more
Mar 01, 2020 rated it liked it
There were moments I was drawn in; however, like many others I agree that the title is misleading. It did not deliver what I hoped to gain from a book on craft. I do think that the essays “A letter to my Korean Friends” and “The Characteristics of Kogin” were beautiful to read and incredibly relevant.
Yanagi's sentiments are strong but I found these essays too repetitive and vague to carry them. ...more
Harriet Caldwell
Mar 15, 2020 rated it liked it
This book started off promising but began to be quite self indulgent and a bit aloof. So I wouldn’t read it again
Vania Evan
Oct 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
In the time where minimalism is highly appraised and aspired after, this one narrates a refreshing take. I could find myself nodding to how in modern times, people detach themselves from the beauty of things for whatever reason there is. Especially given the fact that the essays were written decades ago when things haven't gotten to the point where we are right now. With the usage of strong words and tone, Soetsu Yanagi laid bare his two cents about the matter – why does utility seem to be at a ...more
Apr 20, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book consists of three main parts, an overview of the most important Japanese handicraft such as various ceramic techniques, textiles, paper, painting a love letter to Koreans as a result of the Japan/ Korean War in 1919 and a brief history of the Japan Folk Craft Museum from its inception until its physical realization. Author takes a very strong view on beauty and aesthetics and the books reads as a number of essays with central theme the beauty of the ordinary, embedded with philosophical ...more
Izzie Thompson
Feb 09, 2021 rated it liked it
After the first few chapters I thought I would be giving this book four stars. I found those earlier topics/philosophies explored in line with my opinions and ethos for (most) things that I own, and it's rather incredible how they remain relevant to 21st century living despite the writing dating back over 100 years. He presents a compelling argument for artist communities/not striving to be overly individual in output.
The middle and final sections however were a bit of bore; very specific exampl
Jan 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
This book begins by defining “mingei” or “arts of the people”, a Japanese folk art movement that began in the early twentieth century.

It then weaves together essays by Yanagi Sōetsu, the intellectual founder of the movement. The essays vary in subject and don’t always feel cohesive, but that’s likely as they were published years, sometimes decades apart.

What’s captivating about the collection of essays is that Sōetsu’s philosophy barely changes, merely evolving to incorporate new artists and m
asih simanis
May 05, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a collection of essays written by perhaps one of the most influential art critic Japan has to offer—it pains me to only give 3 stars to the book, but despite some of his essays inside this book being extremely beautiful, as a whole the book is rather boring.

Having said that, reading Sōetsu Yanagi made me realize how important it is for us non-Western cultures to have thinkers like him that are able to “name” and hence define a culture (or aesthetic) separate and also equally breathtaking
This is a collection of essays and articles of Soetsu presenting his views on the artistic value of everyday objects. Sometimes philosophical, sometimes very specific, they span a period of over 40 years where his efforts became popular and influenced art and design in Japan and abroad.

I went to him because I was looking for the principles behind the Muji Stores, and, as far as I know, he was the one who first recognized the intrinsic value of simplicity ("muji") in common objects.

It does not ge
Ron Milligan
Jan 19, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021
This Japanese guy was one of the originators of the Mengei concept and worked hard to bring the idea into the mainstream. This book contains a number of example of his writings on the subject, and more generally on what defines beauty and the aesthetics of art and folk craft. The essays are very typical of his style. He is very repetitive and longwinded and as such I got rather bored with him pretty fast. He is one of those people whose views are either very simple or very profound, and I can't ...more
Aditi Singh
Written almost a century ago, a book (with a collection of essays that at times might appear repetitive) that questions our conscious ability to overlook the potential beauty in simple handcrafted daily utility items and talks about the need and importance to restore this dying folk craft. A simple thought on appreciating the beauty of ordinary without over scrutinising with a fairly good insight into Japanese philosophy. So if you are someone with a taste for art and aesthetics, it’s a decent o ...more
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
''Mysteriously, by placing artisans under certain restrictions, nature allows them to gain the freedom to create good patterns. This arrangement guarantees that the making of patterns will be a stable, secure process.'' (p.86)

''Human restriction is nature's freedom'' (p.115)

''For a true understanding of art, in order to touch its essential nature, instinctive insight must precede cerebral discrimination; intuitive understanding must come before intellectual comprehension.'' (p.271)
Nov 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Not a quick read and there must have been a reason why I hadn't finished it before. I think I started nearly two years ago. It's a collection of essays from the 1920's to the 1940's. These essays could have done with a good editor, but I don't suppose editing someone's essays can be done especially as he died in 1961. Many of them are repetitive, maybe he wrote the way he spoke. This led to skipping a lot when reading. Maybe this book should be read bits at a time and then put aside. ...more
Sanskriti N. Tiwari
Jul 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Art is subjective and inundated with its own meanings. Having said that, it's necessary to learn different forms of art before forming an opinion about it.
Community and folk art teaches diligence, capability and the spirit of togetherness. More than anything, it's an act of reviving the art of generations.

The book in a nutshell.
Julie Thomason
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
I was attracted to this book, because I have always been fascinated by the Japanese Teac Ceremony and hoped it might shed more light. It did a little but put things into a new fresh perspective for me. Some of the essays I found fascinating, others a bit heavy going. Some for his insights well before his time.
Beau Birkett
Jan 19, 2021 rated it really liked it
Some really great info that's helped me form my own direction for design. Due to it being a collection of essays, the subject matter jumps around quite a lot, and some bits are very repetitive. But there's definitely some solid information and eye opening stuff in there, I'm now a craft convert, before I was completely against craft. ...more
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Yanagi Sōetsu (柳 宗悦, March 21, 1889 - May 3, 1961), also known as Yanagi Muneyoshi, was a Japanese philosopher and founder of the mingei (folk craft) movement in Japan in the late 1920s and 1930s.

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“Even the common articles made for daily use become endowed with beauty when they are loved.” 8 likes
“What is the proper way of seeing? In brief, it is to see things as they are. However, very few people possess this purity of sight. That is, such people are not seeing things as they are, but are influenced by preconceptions. 'Knowing' has been added to 'seeing'.” 4 likes
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