Sori Yanagi



Sori Yanagi (柳宗理) is one of the most important Japanese designers: he is a pioneer in industrial design field and the son of Soetsu Yanagi (1889-1961), father of the Mingei movement. His several designs in every sectors, from electronics to furniture, have brought him an international fame.

The industrial turn

He first studied oil painting at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts from 1936 to 1940 but he finally turned to architecture by joining the office of Junzo Sakakura (1901-1969). However, it was thanks to Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999) he really began to move towards design: while he was her assistant during her trip sponsored by the Ministry of Trade and Industry to advise Japanese companies to improve their products, Sori Yanagi became aware of the social dimension of design. He learned from the French woman designer “the process of design” as he told himself. Her trip had a huge influence on her work but it also marked a whole generation of Japanese designers. Sori Yanagi was at the front row to understand European Modernism: he gave up architecture in 1947 to study industrial design and in 1952 he opened his own agency in Tokyo, the Yanagi Industrial Design Institute. 

The master of Japanese design

Sori Yanagi is undoubtedly one of the most famous Japanese designers in the world. He is known for his works in all fields: furniture, electronics, transports, ceramics and lightings. He handles all types of materials, from wood to aluminum, from plywood to plastic, easily, without barriers. He is the designer of the Olympic Torch for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games: the world has been able to enjoy the fire of his design. In 1954, he created his two most emblematic pieces, the Butterfly and Elephant stools, made of plywood and fiberglass respectively. They are a perfect mix and match between Japanese tradition and Modernity vibes.
Sori Yanagi has received numerous awards thanks to his innovative designs: the Mainichi Prize for Industrial Design for his radio/record in 1952, the Gold Medal at the Milan Triennial in 1957, and the Medal of Honor for his overall contribution to Japanese culture in 1981. He worked for the recognition and professionalization of the design field: he was one of the founding members of the Japan Industrial Designers Association in 1952 and he joined the Japan Industrial Design Committee (now the Japan Design Committee) in 1953.

Passing on and preserving

Sori Yanagi is a polymorphic designer. He is involved in the knowledge diffusion. In 1953, he is a one-year lecturer at the Women’s Institute of Fine Arts in Tokyo, then in 1954 he became professor at the University of Arts and Crafts in Kanazawa (Industrial Design section). He is also the author of books in English and Japanese.
He is the son of Soetsu Yanagi, founder of the Mingei movement which celebrates the ancestral Japanese know-how and the beauty of everyday objects. Sori Yanagi gives prominence to handicrafts, thus creating a two-faced rich design. He took his father place as the head of the museum he founded in 1936, the Japan Folk Crafts Museum in 1977.

Sori Yanagi is famous in all design fields. He creates pieces that are icons today without ever forgetting tradition: he is the keeper of the Japanese crafts collective memory and practices in one hand and a true master in industrial design in the other hand.