Kingdom of Beauty

Mingei and the Politics of Folk Art in Imperial Japan

Kingdom of Beauty

Asia-Pacific: Culture, Politics, and Society

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Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 21 illustrations Published: July 2007

Author: Kim Brandt

Art and Visual Culture > Art History, Asian Studies > East Asia, History > Asian History

A Study of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, Columbia University

Kingdom of Beauty
shows that the discovery of mingei (folk art) by Japanese intellectuals in the 1920s and 1930s was central to the complex process by which Japan became both a modern nation and an imperial world power. Kim Brandt’s account of the mingei movement locates its origins in colonial Korea, where middle-class Japanese artists and collectors discovered that imperialism offered them special opportunities to amass art objects and gain social, cultural, and even political influence. Later, mingei enthusiasts worked with (and against) other groups—such as state officials, fascist ideologues, rival folk art organizations, local artisans, newspaper and magazine editors, and department store managers—to promote their own vision of beautiful prosperity for Japan, Asia, and indeed the world. In tracing the history of mingei activism, Brandt considers not only Yanagi Muneyoshi, Hamada Shōji, Kawai Kanjirō, and other well-known leaders of the folk art movement but also the often overlooked networks of provincial intellectuals, craftspeople, marketers, and shoppers who were just as important to its success. The result of their collective efforts, she makes clear, was the transformation of a once-obscure category of pre-industrial rural artifacts into an icon of modern national style.


Kingdom of Beauty is an important work that contributes a grounded account of knowledge production processes, dynamics of art evaluation, and achievements of art centered social activism in a colonial setting that will be
useful to scholars in many fields.”
— Liora Sarfati, Museum Anthropology Review

Kingdom of Beauty is truly the most compelling study of Mingei I have read: it not only answers questions hitherto unanswered, but also provides useful tools for the future study of Mingei, particularly in the context of today’s increasingly globalizing world. . . . I am deeply struck by the manner in which the author has approached often contentious topics with unabated tenacity, integrity, and sincerity.” — Asian Ethnology

“[Kingdom of Beauty] is a notable addition to the field by a historian of modern Japanese studies . . . . [T]he book illuminates modern Japanese history and the social climate of the first half of the 20th century. Organised into an introduction, five chapters and an epilogue, it is well written, approachable and makes restrained use of academic jargon.” — Yuko Kikuchi, Social Science Japan Journal

“[A]n important contribution to the growing field of research surrounding Japan’s ‘invented traditions.’” — Joshua S. Mostow, Monumenta Nipponica

“[A]n impressive narrative of mingei’s cultural history . . . . Kingdom of Beauty is a rigorous scholarly work, much of which is based on Brandt’s judicious use of Japanese primary resources. It is beautifully written, and benefits from the inclusion of numerous . . . plates of mingei wares. Brandt’s argument is tight, comprehensive and engaging and, most importantly, groundbreaking in its excavation of the complex social forces at work and the entities associated with mingei’s ascent in the first half of last century.” — Penny Bailey, Asian Studies Review

“Historian Kim Brandt’s Kingdom of Beauty: Mingei and the Politics of Folk Art in Imperial Japan is a comprehensive and well-written study focusing on how ‘the Japanese discovery of folk art was shaped by imperialism and colonialism, by new strains of nationalist thought and feeling, and by the structures and processes of industrial capitalism.’ The book contributes to a small but significant body of scholarship that places Mingei within the frameworks of Japanese state and society and of Japanese society and culture during the prewar and wartime eras.” — Barbara Thornbury, Pacific Affairs

“It is a testament to the quality of Brandt’s research that Kingdom of Beauty is . . . the finest cultural history of mingei available in any language. Clearly organized, compellingly written, and above all thoroughly investigated, this work manages to recenter the story of mingei’s origins in the history of Japanese colonialism without reducing Yanagi and his collaborators to nationalist caricatures.” — Morgan Pitelka, Journal of Japanese Studies

“Recommended.” — S.C. Scott, Choice

Kingdom of Beauty is first-rate. Kim Brandt’s analysis is sharp, her organization supple, her writing graceful. Moreover, her synthesis of the imperial with the domestic—and of the ideological with the material—makes the book a model of cultural history.” — Kären Wigen, author of The Making of a Japanese Periphery, 1750–1920

“A richly textured, beautifully written, and provocatively argued analysis of the Japanese folk-craft movement, this study sheds light on empire, middle-class material culture, the aesthetics of fascism, and much else common to twentieth-century societies in the throes of dislocating change. A beguiling book on important themes.” — Carol Gluck, George Sansom Professor of History, Columbia University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Kim Brandt is Associate Professor of Japanese history at Columbia University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1. The Beauty of Sorrow 7

2. The Discovery of Mingei 38

3. New Mingei in the 1930s 83

4. Mingei and the Wartime State, 1937-1945 124

5. Renovating Greater East Asia 173

Epilogue 223

Notes 229

Bibliography 277

Index 293
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4000-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3983-0
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