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Dissertation Project Kinder (Abstract)

Yanagi Muneyoshi as cultural mediator: The reports of his Korea travels from the years 1920 and 1938

(Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Evelyn Schulz)

The Japanese philosopher and art critic Yanagi Muneyoshi (1889-1961) is known as the founder of the mingei undō, the Japanese folk art movement.

Yanagi was an intellectual born in the Meiji period who, similar to the leading thinkers and writers of his time, for example Okakura Tenshin (1862-1913), Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916) or Nagai Kafū (1879-1959), was concerned with questions of the cultural identity of Japan.

The focus of my research project is Yanagi's preoccupation with Korean art in the beginning of the 20th century.
Before Yanagi was concerned with Japanese folk arts, the Asakawa brothers, Asakawa Noritaka (1884-1964) and Asakawa Takumi (1891-1931), brought him into contact with the Korean Joseon ceramics (1392-1910) in 1914.

Thereupon he traveled to Korea several times. During these trips Yanagi composed report fragments and one lengthy travelogue entitled Chorurakikō (全羅紀行; Cholla travelogue, 1938) from the book Yanagi Muneyoshi Mingeikikō (柳宗悦 民芸紀行; Yanagi Muneyoshi Mingei travelogue, 1986), in which he described his impressions of the Korean articles of virtue.

Like many of his contemporaries also Yanagi came into contact with Western science during his schooldays. Before 1920 Yanagi had already been familiar with the arts and crafts theory by William Morris and John Ruskin, which had an impact on his formulation of the Japanese folk art theory. In addition, shortly before his travel to Korea Yanagi was concerned with William Blake, among others.

At the time of his first contact with the Korean folk art Yanagi had already developed a „modern view“ of art and artisan craftwork that had an impact on his valuation of Korean art.

Regardless of the deep interest in Japan and South Korea and many new researches on Yanagi, his travelogues did not find as much recognition. The research project at hand addresses this desideratum of the Yanagi research.

A further aim of this project is to clarify the question to what extent one can speak of a „modern view“ of Yanagi regarding Korea, and what marks this specific modernity. For that I want to analyze and partially translate the report fragments Kare no Chōseniki (彼の朝鮮行; His Korea Travel, 1920) from Chōsen to sono geijutsu (朝鮮とその芸術; Korea and its Art, 1922) as well as the previous mentioned travelogue Chorurakikō.

A further objective of the project is to clarify the question of how Yanagi's travel literature fits into the tradition of Japanese travelogues. Moreover, the question is asked, in which way Yanagi's images of Korea are mediated and what signifies these images. Particular attention shall be paid to the question of how today's transnational dissemination of Yanagi's idea of the Korean folk art can be explained.