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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sori Yanagi (1915-2011)

Sori Yanagi
Sori Yanagi (1915 -2011) was a Japanese industrial designer known best for his stools and kitchenware. Yanagi died December 25 at age 95.

His Butterfly stool won an award at the 1957 Milan Triennial, elevating him to international stature. His earlier Elephant stool is also well known.

Yanagi chose industrial design as his life's work after seeing the designs of French architect Le Corbusier while studying at the National University of Arts in Tokyo. After completing his education, Yanagi worked briefly in an architectural firm before opening his own industrial design office in the early 1950s.Yanagi also designed bridges, toys, motorcycles, as well as the 1972 Olympic Torch for the Winter Games.

His success opened international doors for other young Japanese designers, and he remained an ardent supporter of Japanese traditional art. He was director of the Japan Folk Crafts Museum in Tokyo, which was founded by his father, Soetsu Yanagi.

"Things that are easy to use survive, regardless of what is fashionable, and people want to use them forever," Yanagi said in a 2002 Japan Times article. "But if things are created merely for a passing vogue and not for a purpose, people soon get bored with them and throw them away."


Soy sauce pot, c. 1950

Elephant stool, 1954

Butterfly stool, 1957

Wooden handle flatware



Rotary tape dispenser

Grill pan

Sake glass

Kitchen whisk

1972 Winter Olympics torch


  1. Great post as usual. Thank you for helping me acquire more knowledge. Love your articles.

  2. @Mid Mod Mom: And thanks for being such a loyal reader! Knowing that people find my posts helpful is very gratifying.

  3. "Things that are easy to use survive..."
    Agree, especially when they happen to be as aesthetically pleasing as Yanagi's designs.

    I want his rotary tape dispenser!

  4. @I dream lo-tech: I want that tape dispenser too! Of all the images I included in the post, that was the one I found most fascinating. Glad to know I'm not the only one!

  5. The Butterfly Chair! I've seen it before in a book. Never knew who designed it. Thanks for sharing.

  6. @Lara: I think a lot of people recognize that piece but have a hard time putting a name to it. Unfortunately, Yanagi never became a household name in the United States. I'm glad you enjoyed the post!

  7. I have always loved the Butterfly Stool. The simplistic design with those curves. It seems like it's floating. Thank you for the history. I love your blog and appreciate a fellow MidCentury lover.

  8. @MomsZen: The butterfly stool is truly a marvel. I'm glad you enjoy the history. It makes the design come alive for me.