The Beauty of Everyday Things


Soetsu Yanagi



There was once a man, poor and uneducated, who was a person of deep faith. Although he found it difficult to explain what he believed in or why, in his simple words there was something luminous, something surprisingly brilliant arising from his experience. He had no personal belongings worth mentioning, but he possessed a deep understanding of what it meant to believe. Without knowing it, he knew God. As a result, he possessed unwavering strength.

I can say somewhat the same thing about the plate now before me. It is nothing more than a simply made object of the type often looked down upon as common and coarse. It displays no overweening pride, no flashy effects. The artisan who made it gave little thought to what he was making or how it would come out. Just as a Buddhist devotee will continually repeat a religious chant as a means of achieving salvation, as artisan will repeatedly turn a potter’s wheel and make identically shaped pieces. Then the same pattern is repeatedly drawn on each piece and the same glaze repeatedly applied. What is beauty? What is the art of the kiln? The artisan knows nothing of that. Still, without knowing all that there is to know, his hands continue working swiftly in the process of creation. It is said that the voice chanting for salvation is no longer that of the believer, but that of Buddha himself. In the same way, the hand of the artisan is no longer his or her own hand, but the hand of nature. The craftsman does not aim to create beauty, but nature assures that it is done. He himself has lost all thought, is unconsciously at work. Just as faith appears of its own accord fro ardent belief, beauty naturally appears in works unconsciously created. I never tire of gazing at the plate in front of me.



Published here with kind permission from Penguin.
Translation copyright © Japan Publishing Industry Foundation for Culture, 2017

This is the Introduction to ‘The Beauty of Miscellaneous Things’, 1926. In: The Beauty of Everyday Things (UK: Penguin Random House, 2018)




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