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April 20, 2020

Visiting the Izumo Folkcrafts Museum

by Sophie Richard

Japan-Insights Expert Sophie Richard is a freelance art historian based in London. She was educated at the Ecole du Louvre and the Sorbonne, Paris. Over the last twelve years, she has travelled to Japan many times. In Japan-Insights.jp she published Portraits of Museums, Exploring art museums in Shimane Prefecture , a detailed research on the museum offerings of West Honshu for international visitors.

Sophie Richard

I was happy to return to the Izumo region in Shimane Prefecture a few months ago and I would like to share one visit that particularly enchanted me, that of the Izumo Folkcrafts Museum. Being a self-confessed Mingei fan, I am always curious to visit local crafts museums and I was excited to see this one for the first time.

Approaching the Izumo Folkcraft Museum

A short drive from Izumo city, the museum is located in a leafy residential area. It is housed in parts of a beautiful Edo-period compound still today the residence of the Yamamoto family (not open to the public).

The walk towards the entrance

Visitors enter via a grand gate that was built over two and a half centuries ago by some of the carpenters who worked at Izumo Taisha, one of the most ancient and important Shinto shrines in Japan. Below the gate’s roof I noticed numerous wooden tablets bearing inscriptions. Upon asking I was told that these were hung during the Edo period to protect the house and ensure its prosperity. Members of the family would have them made while visiting temples and then bring them back so that they could be nailed to the gate.

Entrance gate

Detail of votive tablets nailed to the gate

The Izumo Mingei Association operates the museum, managing its collection and supervising the three buildings that are accessible to visitors on this site: the entrance gate and two kuras, or storehouses, that have been turned into display galleries. Turning right past the gate, visitors will find the museum’s main gallery which was once used to store large quantities of rice.

Towards the museum’s first gallery

Inside, the presentation is pleasantly uncluttered and elegant. A second floor was created when the museum was open in 1974, in order to make more space for the display of ceramics, textiles, lacquerware, and furniture. On view are mostly local Mingei artefacts, but there are also objects from other parts of Japan. The display rotates occasionally, particularly the works in glass cases, while the larger pieces such as wooden chests and hanging textiles are permanently on view.

Inside the first gallery
Gallery view

Among those are many indigo pieces that formed part of a bride’s trousseau. For example, on the photograph below, the rectangular textile in the centre was used as a towel for babies. The crane and turtle that decorate it are auspicious symbols of longevity and the red triangle in its top corner, obtained with bengara dye, was reserved for the face.

Textiles on display in first gallery

Upstairs are a variety of chests for storing household goods, including some with locks for keeping money.

View of the upstairs gallery

The impressive wooden beams that criss-cross the ceiling bear the names of the carpenters who built the kura in the 19th century.

Wooden beams seen from the upstairs gallery

Retracing my steps towards the entrance gate, I walked towards the museum’s second viewing space. The various tools and objects made of wickerwork arranged on the outside walls are a reminder that this building was once used as a barn.

Walking along the gate towards the second gallery
Entrance to the second gallery

On display are practical and beautiful objects illustrating the creativity and practicality of craftsmen. Among the many objects are paper kites (still made today in the small Takahashi shop near Izumo Taisha), ceramic warmers for hands, or for cooking eels.
At the time of my visit a special exhibition focused on dobin, small tea pots used for pouring tea or broth; they were tastefully presented throughout the space, including on the stairs of a step chest.

Inside the second gallery
Temporary display

I warmly recommend a visit to the Izumo Folkcrafts Museum, a very peaceful and atmospheric place. Its temporary exhibitions are worth seeing and while there is little English information provided, this should not deter foreign visitors.
An interesting shop with craftwork from local artisans completes the visit.

Leaving the Izumo Folkcraft Museum

Related websites:
Izumo Heritage Museums
Izumo Folkcrafts Museum, Izumo Mingei Kan (Japanese)

© all photos Sophie Richard

Sophie Richard introduced a selection of Shimane museums in her article Portraits of Museums, Exploring art museums in Shimane Prefecture at Japan-Insights.jp!

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