Eyes on TOHOKU 1930-1945

Eyes on TOHOKU 1930-1945

Saturday, July 23 - Sunday, September 25, 2022

Ticket sales starts from 7/1

Mondays (except August 15 and September 19)
10:00 am to 6:00 pm (8:00 pm on Fridays)
Last admission is 30 minutes before closing time.

Exhibition Overview

Bruno Taut, Yanagi Soetsu, Charlotte Perriand, and Kon Wajiro
What They Saw in Tohoku

From the 1930s onward, as the country moved toward the Pacific War, Japan was in a period that oscillated between modern and classic, urban and rural. Also as the arrival of a graphical visual culture, including photography, Japan experienced the transformation of architecture and lifestyle culture.

At this time, people with cutting-edge awareness visited the Tohoku region one after another and paid attention to the architecture and daily utensils of the region. Those were such as the German architect Bruno Taut who came to Japan in 1933, Yanagi Soetsu, who developed the folk art movement, and the French designer Charlotte Perriand, who was invited to Japan by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in 1940.

Entering the Showa era, there was a widespread movement to collect simple kokeshi dolls and folk toys as a response to the Mingei (folk art) movement. Furthermore, people from the Tohoku region, such as Kon Wajiro, known as the founder of Kogengaku (Modernology), his younger brother Kon Junzo, who produced Aomoriken Gafu (Picture Book of Aomori Prefecture), and Yoshii Tadashi, who led the Tohoku Seikatsu Bijutsu Kenkyukai (Tohoku Lifestyle and Art Study Group), also took a fresh look at the people and lifestyle of their homeland and left valuable records from the mid-war period.

Through these multilayered "eyes" on the Tohoku region, this exhibition reaffirms that the Tohoku region, regarded at the time as backward and marginal, was in fact the cradle of rich culture, and that the activities of the people living there are connected to the present.

*Some exhibits will be changed during the exhibition period (first period: 7/23 - 8/21, second period: 8/23 - 9/25).


1 Bruno Taut's Tohoku "Expedtion"

The German architect Bruno Taut [1880-1938], who came to Japan in 1933, spent about six months teaching design prototypes at Kogeishidosho (the Industrial Arts Institute) in Sendai City (Miyagi Pref.), and was also involved in designing and teaching crafts in Takasaki City (Gunma Pref.). Excluding his stay in Sendai, he made three major trips to the Tohoku region. When he revisited Akita in February 1936, guided by the woodcut artist Katsuhira Tokushi, he enjoyed the snow festival and natural features of the area.

The first chapter follows Taut's travels in Akita in chronological order and traces his footsteps in Tohoku, displaying the crafts he designed in Sendai and Takasaki, as well as the diaries, albums, manuscripts and other artefacts entrusted to his Japanese friends after his death.

2 Yanagi Soetsu's Aesthetics on Tohoku

Yanagi Soetsu [1889-1961], who developed his aesthetic interests while editing the literary magazine Shirakaba, proposed the term "Mingei" (folk art) in 1925, an abbreviation for "minshuteki kogei" (literally translated as "crafts of the people"). Yanagi, who was concerned about the industrialization of daily necessities and found in handicrafts a unique beauty that was "functional" and "healthy", visited the Tohoku region more than 20 times between 1927 and 1944. The Tohoku region, regarded as backward, was for Yanagi an 'amazingly rich place' and a 'real treasure house of folk art'.

In chapter 2, we present Yanagi's collections of mino (straw raincoat), sashiko (stitchwork) and ceramics from the Tohoku region, as well as the works of his fellow artists Serizawa Keisuke and Munakata Shiko.

3 Kingdom of Folk Toys

With the travel boom of the early Showa era, interest in local regions grew, and folk toys, originally intended for children, became a hobby and collecting subject for adults. In 1930, when Takei Takeo, an illustrator of children's books, published the Collection of Japanese Folk Toys containing his own collection, collecting enthusiasm increased further and a network of collectors spread to various regions.

Chapter 3 introduces the world of folk toys, which can be seen as another form of handicraft, by displaying clay dolls (Tsutsumi dolls from Miyagi Pref., Sagara dolls from Yamagata Pref., etc.), papier-mache dolls (Miharu dolls from Fukushima Pref., etc.) and kokeshi dolls from the Tohoku region.

4 "Setcho" Utopia

In 1933, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry established the Sekisetsu-chiho Noson Keizai Chosajo (Research Institute of Agrarian Economy in Snowbound Districts, so-called "Setcho") in Shinjo-machi (present Shinjo City), Yamagata Pref., attempted to find a way out of the economic depression and bad harvests in the Tohoku region. Under the advice of intellectuals, the institute promoted research and countermeasures against snow damage, the development of infrastructure for rural sideline industries, and guidance and training in agro-processing. The French designer Charlotte Perriand [1903-1999], invited by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, produced prototypes of furniture that combined Yamagata’s local materials with modern design. Aomori prefecture-born Kon Wajiro [1888-1973], a leading researcher on minka (traditional Japanese farmhouse), designed experimental farmhouses with peaked roofs that are resistant to snow damage.

In chapter 4, we look back at the activities of Setcho, which dreamed of a utopia in the snowy countryside.

5 Kon Wajiro and Junzo's Tohoku Modernology

Based on research of minka (traditional Japanese farmhouses) throughout Japan, Kon Wajiro conducted with folklorist Yanagida Kunio and others from the 1920s onwards and devoted himself to the modernization and improvement of life in the Tohoku region. For example, he designed the thearter in Ogoe (Fukushima Pref.) and the Settlement House in Obonai (Akita Pref.). Wajiro coined the term 'Kogengaku'(Modernology), the research of observing, collecting, and analyzing the behaviour patterns and fashion of urban people on the streets from his unique perspective. His younger brother Kon Junzo [1893-1944] inherited this method, also practiced Kogengaku in his hometown and produced Aomoriken Gafu (Picture Book of Aomori Prefecture).

In chapter 5, the intellectual and humorous sketches of the Kon brothers introduce the scenery of life in the Tohoku region.

6 Yoshii Tadashi's Report and Record on Mountain Villages

Yoshii Tadashi [1908-1999], a Fukushima-born artist who was initially devoted to surrealism and other avant-garde art forms, spent three years from 1941 visiting rural and fishing villages in the Tohoku region. His sketches and notes compiled in the book Tohoku-ki (Records of Tohoku) is a valuable record of the activities of poor but tenacious people in wartime, when supplies were scarce.

In chapter 6, Yoshii's painstaking sketches of the culture and lifestyle of the Tohoku region, which are often buried under the surface, are on display.


Admission Fees
Adults: 1,400 yen
High-school and University students: 1,200 yen
Junior high-school students and younger: Free
· Advance tickets and group tickets are not available.
· Persons with disability certificate or similar receive a 100 yen discount, and one accompanying helper is admitted free.
· Students must present student ID upon entrance to the museum.
Reserved date/time tickets on sale on this website from July 1
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Tokyo Station Gallery (East Japan Railway Culture Foundation), Nikkei Inc.
Special cooperation
The Japan Folk Crafts Museum