Names in this site follow the Japanese custom of family name first.

June 19, 2012

Mukai Junkichi: Painter of Minka (Museums)

Traditional Japanese houses, or minka, are something I am very fond of. My dream is to live in one in the future! For now, I have to do with open-air museums, and that is not so bad, as there are beautiful traditional houses in parks like the Japan Open-Air Folk-house Museum in Kawasaki, the Shikoku Minka Museum or the Hida Folk Village in Takayama.

Hida Folk Village, Takayama
[Japan Open-Air Folk-house Museum. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

Another option for minka lovers who have to still there longing somehow is to look at minka paintings. Here oil painter Mukai Junkichi (1901-1995) comes in. His work is shown in his former studio, which is now an Annex of the Setagaya Museum of Art. The only subject Mukai was interested in during the major part of his career were the traditional thatched-roof farmhouses of Japan.

Before the war, Mukai Junkichi had experimented with a variety of styles and also made a visit to Europe where he copied famous paintings in the Louvre. But he came into his own when after the war he realized that Japan’s folk-houses were a fast disappearing breed, as a result of economic development. Mukai felt sad at the loss of these beautiful structures, and traveled to all parts of the country to catch them on his canvasses.

He painted them standing lonely in the fields, with a background of magnificent snowy mountains, or huddled together in a small hamlet. The changing seasons figure prominently in all his works. Above all, Mukai depicted his thatched-roof houses with realism and vividness. In an age of abstract painting and experimentation, Mukai’s style is very traditional. What makes his paintings interesting are the folk-houses dominating them. They are in fact like living persons, all with their own character.

Since 1933 Mukai Junkichi lived in the area of Tsurumaki in the Setagaya ward, which until about 30 years ago managed to keep its rural character. Mukai’s own traditional house stood on an elevation among the fields.

When you come now, you will find a residential area where the houses have been squashed so closely together that even a blade of grass will not fit between them. The small garden of the Mukai residence with its oak and zelkova is the only spot of nature in the wide surroundings.

Hida Folk Village, Takayama
[Hida Folk Village. Photo © Ad Blankestijn]

Unfortunately, the original house was destroyed by fire in 1961 (taking with it many drawings, documents, photos and the like) and the house with studio you find now was put up again in 1962. Inside, however, it succeeds in keeping a pleasant folk-art atmosphere. The house was already turned into a museum in 1993, when Mukai was still alive.

The small museum organizes about four exhibitions a year, showing of course the folk house paintings, but also drawings, sketches and photos. You will also find the easels on which Mukai worked, including the small one he carried with him on his travels, now with the paint dried up.

The museum forms an elegant and engaging environment, an temporary escape from the city just as the paintings themselves. Today you will find the real folk-houses only in museums or specially preserved areas, but their spirit lives on in the paintings of Mukai Junkichi.
Tel. 03-5450-9581
Hrs: 10:00-18:00; CL Mon (next day if NH), NY.
Access: 10-min. on foot from W exit of Komazawa Daigaku Station on the Tokyu Denentoshi Line (the route is clearly indicated, also in English); 18-min. walk from Shoin Jinja Station on the Tokyu Setagaya Line; bus 5 from Shibuya Station (bound for Tsurumaki Eigyosho) to Komazawa Chugakko bus stop, then 5-min. on foot. Here is a map.