What is Wabi-Sabi? – Interra USA, Inc.

February 8, 2021

What is Wabi-Sabi?

An easy-to-understand explanation of the aesthetic sense unique to Japanese people.

1. In the first place, what is Wabi-Sabi?
1.1 Meaning of Wabi
1.2 Meaning of Sabi
2. How to use Wabi-Sabi
2.1 When do you use “Wabi-Sabi”?
3. Wabi-Sabi spreading to the world

Tea utensils that feel simple. The beauty you feel when you see the garden surrounded by silence. Japanese people tend to use the word “Wabi-Sabi” to describe it. This “Wabi-sabi” can be imagined as Japanese, but most people honestly don’t know what it means. This time, I investigated the origin of “Wabi-sabi” and its relationship with the tea ceremony and Japanese garden.

1. In the first place, what is Wabi-Sabi?

Wabi-sabi is a uniquely Japanese aesthetic sense. For example, it is an image of one noun that is good for being simple and quiet and imperfect, but in reality, it is a combination of two nouns, Wabi and Sabi. Each one seems to have a different meaning. First, let’s look at each meaning.

1.1 Meaning of Wabi
Wabi is written as “侘び” and is a noun form of the verb “わぶ”. Originally, it meant “sadness and annoyance that I couldn’t think of”. Since the Muromachi period, my own disappointment and poverty (who seems to be suffering from a significant shortage of money and goods) have come to have a positive meaning and content to accept the situation that is not what I want and to actively try to settle down.

It’s a word that expresses the spiritual abundance of trying to enjoy the situation without pessimism.

1.2 Meaning of Sabi
Sabi is written as “寂び” and is a noun form of the verb “さぶ”. According to the “Japanese Ancient Dictionary”, it is described as “one of the typical beauty of Japanese classical art. A combination of astringency as a phenomenon and loneliness related to Beauty. Against the background of unconventional and lonely feelings, it was valued across genres such as Japanese poems, verbs, and tea.” To put it a little more simply, this is “the feeling of oldness, tranquility, and withered things.”

Unlike Wabi, which expresses spirituality, Sabi seems to be a concept that regards the change in which the inner essence appears superficially as beauty.

After that, the aesthetic sense of “Wabi-sabi” spreads in connection with the Zen Buddhism that was introduced from China. Since the Muromachi period, the idea of ​​seeking the essence of Zen Buddhism has spread to samurai and intellectuals and has had a cultural impact, such as the dry landscape garden, which expresses the flow of water with stones and sand crests.

2. How to use Wabi-Sabi

Now that I understand the meanings of Wabi and Sabi, let’s see how to use them.

2.1 When do you use “Wabi-Sabi”?

– When it comes to old buildings, the decoration of wooden parts has pain and blue-green rust that can be made of copper. When expressing it, people say, “This temple surrounded by tranquility has no gorgeous decoration, but it feels like Wabi-Sabi.”

– When people see the moss growing on the stone, “Tsukubai”, people think about not only the beauty of greenery but also the time it takes for it to grow. And some people will feel a sense of stability due to the characteristics of stones that do not change even after decades. In such a case, it is expressed as “I feel Wabi-Sabi from this stone, and when I look at it, my heart calms down.”

– Imagine the fragility of the autumn leaves, the loneliness of the remaining branches, and the harshness of the coming winter. And people say, “I feel Wabi-sabi of the luster on the autumn leaves and the fallen leaves.”

As mentioned above, Wabi-Sabi seems to be used when one’s emotions sway quietly concerning an event or space.

3. Wabi-Sabi spreading to the world

The word “Wabi-sabi” is also understood in English by Wabi-Sabi. It is often used by foreign visitors as a synonym for words when tourists express Japan or when introducing Japanese culture overseas. Lastly, I would like to introduce the people who spread “Wabi-sabi” and “Zen” to the world.

The first is Tenshin Okakura, a Japanese scholar. In “The Book of Tea (茶の本)”, introduces the spirituality of the Japanese people as well as their relationship with “Zen” and Taoism.

The second is Bernard Leach, a potter who was also involved in the Japanese folk art movement. He describes Wabi-Sabi in his book, “The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty (柳宗悦評論集).”

Next is a writer/editor named Leonard Koren. In his book “Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers (わびさびを読み解く)”, he described the unclear sense of “Wabi-sabi” is a modern style called modernism. He published a book that tried to verbalize it by comparing it with ideas.

Lastly, I would like to introduce Steve Jobs, one of the founders of Apple Inc. in the United States. He is devoted to “Zen” and looks up to a priest of the Soto sect as his teacher. The products he made are extremely sophisticated and strongly influenced by “Zen”. His devotion was described in Steve Jobs (written by Walter Isaacson) and others, and his spirituality was transmitted to the world.

In this way, the concept of “Wabi-sabi” became the aesthetic sense of Japan and spread throughout the world!

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