In Japan, no matter where you visit, the philosophy of wabi sabi reigns ultimate supreme. A (loose) translation of the term, wabi, is simple beauty, and sabi is change or transformation. This idea, rooted in Zen Buddhist philosophy, permeates the entire archipelago. Today, I’ve curated a few text and image resources on the topic to share with you.
When I travel, I always like to do my research first. I think it shows a great deal of respect, and responsibility by learning about the country, community, and culture of the place I hope to visit. I like this article published by Stanford, which gives a thorough overview of Japanese Aesthetics.
The heart and soul of Japan is tied to wabi sabi. From its cuisine and architecture, to poetry and infrastructure, the concept expresses a reverence for time passing. Utne published a thoughtful article back in 2001 on the subject, Wabi Sabi: The Art of Imperfection. The BBC produced a documentary, In Search of Wabi Sabi, circa 2011 with novelist Marcel Theroux exploring the philosophy.
At its core, wabi sabi is the ultimate throw-back, reminding us of the tender rawness that is life. While much the design world has seemed to box it in as merely an aesthetic, useful in the art of home decor, there is a myriad depth that goes unspoken. Wabi sabi is, by nature, an example of good design, and it is also an expression of accessible beauty—an idea that has started to gain more traction with artists, designers, and creatives in the last few decades.
Living in Japan for a year changed my life. I learned a great deal about life during my time there, and I think that experience taught me how to be at peace with solitude. As a 20 something woman of color residing in a country once so deliberately homogeneous, at times, the isolation felt palpable. However, most of the time, I felt a deep empowerment and gratitude that I now know stems from the philosophy of wabi sabi. It was an honor to be there, to represent my family and ancestors. Indeed, I brought them with me, and being in tune with wabi sabi made that spiritual bridge a tangible reality. Japan is the place that showed me what it looks like to have courage, to be full and empty, and to appreciate that process as a way of life—from doing, to being.
Thanks for reading! xo, Christian