Yanagi Muneyoshi

Yanagi (Soetsu) Muneyoshi, (1889-1961)

Mushin (calligraphy) kakemono

ink on paper, mounted as a hanging scroll, signed Muneyoshi with one artist's seal; with tomobako authenticated by the potter Hamada Shoji: Yanagi Muneyoshi sho Mushin with one seal Shoji Shiki

16 1/8 by 12 1/4 in., 41 by 31 cm

Mushin, shortened from the Zen phrase mushin no shin, translates literally as 'mind of no mind' which traditionally refers to a state into which very highly trained martial artists are said to enter during combat. Mushin is achieved when one feels no anger, fear or ego during combat. There is an absence of discursive thought, and so the fighter is totally free to act and react without hesitation. At this point, one relies not on what they think should be the next move, but what is felt intuitively.

The concept readily translates to the work of Munakata. The speed in which he worked was legendary— painting, carving or printmaking, Munakata completely focused all of his energy, his body, his mind, on producing his art. He would completely loose himself into the painting or carving the block: he said "the mind goes and the tool walks alone" (Shiko Munakata, by Yojuro Yasuda, translated by Oliver Statler, 1958).

Yanagi Soetsu was a leading writer and philosopher of 20th century Japan. Together with Hamada Shoji and Kawai Kanjiro, Yanagi led the Mingei movement, which sought to draw attention to the beauty of the works of ordinary craftsman that spoke to the spiritual and practical needs of life. They founded the Mingei-kai or Nihon Mingei Kyokai (The Japanese Mingei Society or Japan Folk Art Association) in 1926. A decade later he opened the Mingeikan (Japanese Folk Crafts Museum) in 1936 and became its first director.

That same year, Yanagi noticed Munakata's woodblock printed handscroll of twenty prints (ambitiously mounted horizontally), Yamato shi Uruwashi Hanga Saku (Japan, The Beautiful) at the 1936 exhibition of the Kokugakai art association's annual spring show. When Yanagi approached Munakata to discuss purchasing the work for his new museum, Munakata immediately threw his arms around his new patron; in Munakata's own words: "...like a dog wagging its tail' (ibid, p. 72).

Munakata believed his real printmaking began at this moment, claiming "Mingei gave birth to me" (ibid, p. 74). He credits Yanagi with teaching him the concepts of 'tariki no bi' ('beauty of other power') and 'buji no bi' ('peaceful beauty'). It was through Yanagi that Munakata befriended other artists of the movement, including, his spiritual mentor, the potter Kawai Kanjiro; the textile artist Serizawa Keisuke; and the potter Hamada Shoji, who was also a benefactor.


Scholten Japanese Art is open Monday - Friday, and some Saturdays by appointment only

Contact Katherine Martin at
(212) 585-0474 or email
to schedule a visit between 11am and 4pm preferably for no more than two individuals at a time.
Visitors are asked to wear face masks and practice social distancing at their discretion.

site last updated
December 2, 2021

Scholten Japanese Art
145 West 58th Street, suite 6D
New York, New York 10019
ph: (212) 585-0474
fx: (212) 585-0475