In a world where we are being constantly exposed to social media, new products and services, technology and the need to always improve ourselves, it can be difficult for us to stop, look around and appreciate what we already have. Many of us chase the things we think we need instead of being satisfied and content with our current state of life. This is when Wabi Sabi can help!
This post delves deep into this Japanese philosophy of accepting imperfection as a way to improve our lives and happiness. Our own philosophy revolves around joy and serenity and we believe that Wabi Sabi fits harmoniously with it. In its very essence, Wabi Sabi means embracing imperfection as nothing is, in fact, perfect in life. We decided to create a detailed blog post in 3 parts to explore this philosophy and see how our Sukhi fans can embrace it!
First, we will look into what Wabi Sabi means, its history and how it made its way to the West. In Part 2, we will explore the different uses of Wabi Sabi, how Wabi Sabi can be applied to interior décor and why interior designers embraced this philosophy. Last, but certainly not least, Last, but certainly not least, we will explain to you how to Wabi sabi your home using interior elements like rugs , lights and plants while paying attention to what you choose to purchase.
If you are looking for ways to apply the Zen philosophy to your life, Wabi Sabi may be the solution for you! So, make yourself a cup of tea, sit in your coziest chair and enjoy your read.
What is Wabi Sabi?
Wabi Sabi is a complex concept that does not have a concrete definition. Its philosophy has been passed from master to student indirectly over the years and is now ingrained in Japanese culture. In fact, in 2009, Marcel Theroux roamed through Japan and asked people to describe Wabi Sabi, as part of a BBC tv series “In Search of Wabi Sabi” . Unsurprisingly, many Japanese simply said that Wabi Sabi was unexplainable.
According to Richard Powell, famous author of the book “Wabi Sabi Simple”, Wabi Sabi is “a way of life that appreciates and accepts complexity while at the same time values simplicity”.
“Wabi” can be translated as “rustic simplicity” or “understated elegance”. It means that less is more and that there is beauty in simplicity. It highlights how we can feel free from stress and anxiety when we own less material wealth.
“Sabi” is translated to “appreciating the old and faded”. This means that “Sabi” invites us to take pleasure in imperfection and understand that everything grows old, gets damaged and fades away. It accepts the natural cycle of life and death.
Together, these two words create a beautiful symbol of humility, simplicity and gratitude. At Sukhi, we can’t help but admire this philosophy and feel humbled by this Japanese vision of life.
The 7 principles of Wabi Sabi
If you want to achieve the Wabi Sabi lifestyle, there are 7 principles you must embrace:
1. Kanso: Simplicity
In Kanso, you choose to rid your life of clutter and focus on clarity. Similar to the philosophy of minimalism and essentialism, Kanso invites you to live in a less-is-more manner. Indeed, this lifestyle allows you to be more selective with what you consume, worry less and choose to devote time to what is most important to you.
2. Fukinsei: Asymmetry
Do you ever find yourselves obsessing too much on creating perfect symmetry? This is most common in art and design and creates stress. Fukinsei challenges our idea of controlling balance and symmetry. Instead, it describes asymmetry as natural and beautiful, and a reason why the world is so amazing. Everything falls into place, even if imperfect.
3. Shibumi: Beauty in the understated
Do you believe that there is beauty in simplicity? The principle of Shibumi invites you to focus on elegant simplicity and not flashiness. This is commonly used in minimalist fashion and nude looks. In Shibumi, we highlight natural features without over-embellishing. This way, we preserve authenticity.
4. Shizen: Naturalness
The Japanese definition of nature or naturalness (shizen) distinguishes itself from the western definition as it includes human intervention. While we are mostly prone to see nature as something untouched and wild, Japanese describe nature as being intertwined with humans. The most used example to illustrate this is the Japanese garden. The design of the garden is not raw nature but created in harmony with nature with purpose and intention.
5. Yugen: Subtle grace
In Yugen, we find beauty in what is not revealed. This form of beauty is mysterious and leaves the mind imagining the possibilities. Photographers, artists and designers can use this principle to visually imply more by showing less.
6. Datsuzoku: Freedom from habit
When living by Datsuzoku, we free ourselves from daily routines and habits. Instead, we embrace the unknown and explore being unconventional. By doing things differently and thinking outside of the box, we open ourselves to a world of possibilities. Often, this allows us to have fun and be more creative in design, like repurposing rugs into overdyed patchwork rugs .
7. Seijaku: Tranquility
The final principle is Seijaku, meaning tranquility, stillness and solitude. This relates to the feeling of mindfulness you can cultivate to help you deal with a busy life. Thus, we can design our lives in such a way that we find tranquility amidst the noise, calmness amidst chaos.
In part 3 of our Wabi Sabi blog series, we will explore these 7 principles with Sukhi rugs and see how we can embrace them by designing our living spaces!
Origins of Wabi Sabi
According to a Japanese legend , there was a young man named Rikyu who wanted to learn the Way of Tea. He went to a tea-master who tested him by asking to tend the garden. Rikyu did so perfectly but, just before showing the immaculate garden to his master, shook a cherry tree. This caused a few leaves and cherry blossoms to fall on the ground. And this is how Rikyu presented his “perfect garden” to his tea-master. To this date, Rikyu is recognized as the one who understood the meaning of Wabi Sabi.
So, the concept of Wabi Sabi has its roots in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. It was also illustrated by the well-loved teacup which has an irregular shape and had been chipped from years of being used. This teacup, although old and used, symbolized enjoyment, love and serenity.
Wabi Sabi emerged in the 15 th century as a reaction to the dominating lifestyle of lavishness, material wealth and ornaments. Wabi Sabi quietly revealed itself as the art of finding beauty in imperfection and accepting that nothing is everlasting.
A well-known example is “ kintsugi ” where cracked pottery is fixed with gold dusted lacquer to highlight imperfections and show that it is more beautiful as time passes.
It is important to highlight, however, that this form of art is not sloppy. Indeed, Wabi Sabi isn’t an excuse for poor craftsmanship. Instead, Wabi Sabi is an art that focuses on quality, care and attention.
Wabi Sabi in the West
As westerners value the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection, Wabi Sabi can feel like a breath of fresh air. The relentless pursuit of perfection can tire us down and cause stress, anxiety and judgement. This is where the Wabi Sabi philosophy comes into play. Wabi Sabi invites us to pause and feel grateful for what we already have and accept that nothing lasts eternally.
As popular writer Leonard Koren highlights in his book “Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers” ,
“Wabi Sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental.”
This book came out in 1994 and instantly became popular among artists and designers. After that, countless books were published in the West exploring the philosophy of Wabi Sabi and its use in modern life, especially in interior design and garden architecture.
These days, it is believed that there are more people in the West adopting Wabi Sabi in their homes than in Japan itself! More and more westerners embrace Wabi Sabi when designing their living spaces to create serene environments .
You might have been embracing Wabi Sabi too without even knowing it! Do you love anything vintage, rustic and antique? Finding beauty in what is well-worn, chipped and scratched is the wabi sabi philosophy!
In Part 1, we explored the meaning of Wabi Sabi, its origins and how it found its way to the West. Part 2 covers the different uses of Wabi Sabi in art, design and lifestyle. Part 2 allows readers to really incorporate the values of Wabi Sabi in their life to increase happiness and peace of mind.