It is often said that the Japanese have a unique sense of aesthetics that is very different from Western standards of beauty. This sensibility is termed as wabi-sabi although it goes much deeper than just appreciation of art and beauty. It is a lifestyle and philosophy that is ingrained in the Japanese identity.
Developing in the 15th century as a response to the dominant aesthetic of extravagance, heavy embellishment, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding exquisiteness in imperfection and appreciation of authenticity and austerity. In Japan, the notion is so deep-rooted that it’s almost impossible to explain it to outsiders.
What is Wabi-sabi?
Wabi-sabi is such a complex concept and it has no direct English translation. In this article we will attempt to pin down this elusive idea.
Wabisabi is made up of two parts:
Wabi refers to simplicity and a sense of stillness. It embraces the rustic quality with all its flaws and imperfections. It celebrates randomness that gives a feeling of distinctiveness and uniqueness.
Sabi means an idyllic beauty that comes from age. It denotes the natural process of aging that gives an object value and dignity. It is the unpretentious and ambiguous process that renders it beautiful and speaks of the Japanese appreciation of the cycle of life.
Many artists and writers have attempted to define and capture this elusive philosophy.
“Wabi is the quality of a rustic, yet refined, solitary beauty. Sabi is that trait, be it the green corrosion of bronze, or the pattern of moss and lichen on wood and stone, that comes with weathering and age.”
“Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. It is a beauty of things modest and humble. It is a beauty of things unconventional and unpretentious.”