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The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty Hardcover – 29 Mar 1973

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Kodansha America, Inc; First Edition edition (29 Mar. 1973)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0870111841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0870111846
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 17.5 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,079,771 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Yanagi pinpoints qualities of 'true' beauty with an authority that hardly allows us to differ. As does Solzhenitsyn, he feels that beauty is a real entity and not different from truth." -Craft Horizons"This book is a quiet manifesto for the preservation and enhancement of crafts." -Washington Post --Washington Post --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

SOETSU YANAGI was born in Tokyo in 1889 and graduated from the literature department of the Tokyo Imperial University in 1913, majoring in psychology. Proficient in English and with a deep feeling for art, while still a student Mr. Yanagi became associated with the Shirakaba ("Silver Birch") literary group, to which he was partly responsible for interpreting Western art to Japan. In 1921, he completed the organization of a Korean folkcraft museum in Seoul, and, in 1936, the present Japan Folkcraft Museum in Tokyo was completed through his efforts. Mr. Yanagi traveled widely in the Orient, Europe, and America. In 1929 he lectured at Harvard University for one year. In Japan, sometimes in the company of the potters Kanjiro Kawai, Shoji Hamada, and Bernard Leach, he sought out anonymous craftsman of all kinds throughout the country and encouraged their work. He also wrote prolifically and profoundly on all aspects of aesthetics, finding his inspiration in Japanese and Oriental folkcraft and folk culture. His personal collection of folkcrafts is the nucleus of the Japan Folkcraft Museum collection. Mr. Yanagi died in Tokyo in 1961. The Adaptor, BERNARD LEACH today is known as one of the world's greatest potters. His numerous books are familiar to everyone interested in modem crafts. Mr. Leach first came to Japan at the age of 22, in 1909, met the Shirakaba group and soon became an intimate friend of Soetsu Yanagi. It is difficult to say which of the two men influenced the other the more. In Mr. Yanagi's own words, "Leach came to Japan... full of dreams and wonder.... It is doubtful if any other visitor from the West ever shared our spiritual life so completely." This volume is Mr. Leach's tribute to his friend of fifty years standing. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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IN THE AUTUMN OF 1964 an international exhibition of contemporary studio pottery was held in Tokyo. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An utterly fabulous book about the nature of aesthetics, in crafts and art, and the act of creation as a spiritual endeavour.
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By Mirei Allen on 22 Mar. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Difficult but interesting book. It gives you an insight of how Japanese art different from Western art.
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By Sharon P on 20 Oct. 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
wonderful book. speedy delivery
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 17 reviews
94 of 96 people found the following review helpful
Humble pie never tasted so good 25 Mar. 2003
By Jim Tolpin - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Soon after getting into custom furniture and cabinetmaking as a profession, I had come to that point where I began to tie my sense of self-worth to what other people thought of my work. Even worse, I began to feel that I was in a competition with my fellow woodworkers. Not only did I want their approval, but I thought I must strive to be better than them or I wouldn't achieve distinction (and therefore success). Then, via my explorations into Buddhism, I came across this book. It presented me with a heaping, much-needed serving of humble pie by telling me things like:
"A beautiful work of the work of a man who is not (bound to) either beauty and ugliness or even to himself."
Yanagi was talking about the craftsman of Japan's past who, working with "total disengagement", created some of the most beautiful art objects the world has ever seen. This work was never signed because these were the products of craftsman who "made no effort to express their individuality through the medium of things; (instead) they produced things through the medium of man". As my understanding of Buddhism deepened, so didn't the import of these words. The bottom line was that I relaxed, I let myself enjoy the process and I let the objects I made speak for themselves. Humble pie never tasted so good.
45 of 46 people found the following review helpful
An Aesthetics Bible! 8 Dec. 1999
By J. English - Published on
Format: Paperback
Yanagi's words are so dense, packed, and rich with meaning. He has keen insights into what real 'seeing' is, and how necessary it is in discerning beauty. But Yanagi's words run beyond insight, and have some of that deep ring of eternal 'Truth' to them. I highly recommmend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about what true 'seeing' is, and how it relates to the perception of beauty.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
A book you HAVE to read, and you'll CRAVE to own... 18 Jan. 2006
By Beyond-Is-Within Also - Published on
Format: Paperback
This remarkable, must-have book is half superb pictures of various Oriental objects of manufacture become recognized as quintessentially "unselfconscious" objects of art (the one of the "top" teacup in Japan alone is worth the book's price), and half short but very eye-opening essays on various dimensions of beauty, creativity, and the aesthetic experience.

MUCH generally accepted superficiality (and downright phoniness) in the field of art appreciation is solidly debunked here (read the other reviews for more on the author's qualifications, plus some relatively piddling criticism from a few specialists).

The pieces on the degeneration of the so-called "classic" Tea Ceremony and the cult of deliberate "beauty of ugliness" will provide much food for thought. Anyone interested in beauty and its representations will do very well indeed to acquire this truly irreplaceable read.

I too wish the book were 10 times as long! I believe it was out of print for awhile -- great to see it available new from Amazon at a reasonable price.

Oh -- on second thought, DO just buy this title, rather than borrow one first -- my copy is so heavily marked up that it would have been agony to have read a library copy....
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A beautiful set of fine essays 25 Oct. 2007
By Joseph Bishop - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I know very little about pottery but I have spent a lot of reading time studying Buddhism and specifically Zen and its underlying life philosophy. I found these essays to be especially beautiful in showing the way for artists and craftsmen to embrace 'no-mindedness' in their creative efforts, effacing their own egos and personalities in order to let nature flow through them in the creative process.

'Objects born, not made' is an especially humbling concept to consider. To think that the objects are 'born' through nature and the craftsman is mostly a mere vehicle for that, his signature on 'his' work completely unncessary, the object itself being the 'signature'.

I was pleased to see in the next to last essay in this collection, the author's references to the 'Way of Tea' and its demonstration of the same principles embodied in this work. I strongly recommend 'The Book of Tea' by Okakuro Kakuzo as an adjunct to this material, amplifying his ideas and further reflecting the beauty of Zen.

My only objection, and this is really minor, is this work's subtitle 'A Japanese Insight into Beauty'. As many Japanese are not Buddhist and do not embrace the Zen philosophy, nor understand it, this insight is not so much 'Japanese' as 'Zen'. Thus the finer subtitle could have been 'A Zen Insight into Beauty'.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
a different way of looking at art/craftsmanship 13 Jan. 2009
By N. Estinto - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book offers an insight into an Eastern approach to beauty and what defines it. In the West we're constantly in this persuit of "perfection", maybe because of our religion, in our work as artists. Basically, we have a culturally imposed standard to our work and the things we posses. This book teaches the beauty of imperfection and humility. He shows examples of pottery and other crafts to illustrate his point. It helped me to let go of my idea of what my work should look like, and the beauty of letting it evolve "by grace" or naturally. The appreciation of the old and worn or even slightly broken. My example would be, if you were to hang a picture on your wall of either a brand new house in an emaculate yard or a painting of an old, somewhat worn down barn covered in vines in field of tall grass, which would you choose? Clearly, the first would be hideous and yet that's what our culture is taught is attractive.
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