9 Elements of Japanese Aesthetics
1. “Imperfection”: Wabi-sabi (侘寂) is the beauty of things that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”.
Wabi is the quality of a rustic, yet refined, solitary beauty. Sabi means things whose beauty stems from age - the patina of age, and the concept that changes due to use may make an object more beautiful and valuable.
As things come and go, they show signs of their coming or going and these signs are considered to be beautiful.
Sakura 桜 (cherry blossoms) in spring or Koyo 紅葉 (autumn colors) in fall represents wabi-sabi - they are aesthetically pleasing because they don’t last.
2. “Elegance”: Miyabi (雅) is about elegance, refinement, or courtliness. Sometimes refers to a “heart-breaker”, Miyabi demanded the elimination of anything that was absurd or vulgar.
Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺(Temple of the Golden Pavilion) in Kyoto, Japan.
3. “Subtle”: Shibui (渋い) or shibusa (渋さ) is a simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. It means that things are more beautiful when they speak for themselves.
A Bizen sake carafe. The beauty of it doesn’t need announcement; its quality speaks for itself. It involves the maturity, complexity, history, and patina that only time can bring.
4. “Originality”: Iki (粋) is about a refined uniqueness. It is an expression of simplicity, sophistication, spontaneity, and originality. Iki is also about originality, uniqueness and spontaneity that is more audacious and unselfconscious while still remaining measured and controlled.
Kimonos were simple and minimal, often striped and coloured to deep shades of blues and greys on the surface. However, the insides were lined with opulent silk, designed so that only the sophisticated could recognise their secret luxury.
On the other hand, a geisha 芸者 also embodies Iki - they are beautiful, sophisticated but they don’t have the intention to stand out. They combine sassiness with innocence, sexiness with restraint.
5. “Slow, accelerate, end”: Jo-ha-kyū (序破急) infers a tempo that begins slowly, accelerates, and then ends swiftly.
The idea of jo-ha-kyū is used by Japanese traditional arts such as tea ceremony and martial arts.
6. “Mysterious”: Yūgen (幽玄) triggers feelings too deep and mysterious for words. It shows that real beauty exists when, through its suggestiveness, only a few words, or few brush strokes, can suggest what has not been said or shown, and hence awaken many inner thoughts and feelings.
The Dragon of Smoke Escaping from Mt Fuji (Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾 北斎)
7. “Discipline and Ethics”: Geidō (芸道) refers to the various traditional Japanese arts disciplines: Noh (能) (theater), kadō (華道)(Japanese flower arrangement), shodō (書道) (Japanese calligraphy), Sadō (茶道) (Japanese tea ceremony), and yakimono (焼物) (Japanese pottery). All of these disciplines carry an ethical and aesthetic connotation and teach an appreciation of the process of creation.
Hence, ethics and discipline make things more attractive.
Japanese martial arts aren’t about the result: defeating your enemy. They’re about the path that gets you there. They see no value in a short cut — even when the end result is the same.
Japanese tea ceremony: A cup of tea is trivial compared with the process of making, serving and consuming the tea. The process is the art.
8. “The Void”: Ensō (円相) means “circle”. It is a form of the art of minimalism common in Japanese designs and aesthetics. It symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the Universe, and the void.
In Zen Buddhist painting, ensō symbolizes a moment when the mind is free to simply let the body/spirit create.
At first glance, an ensō may appear to be just a circle. But its symbolism represents the spiritual growth of the artist – the brushwork, which include dragging, pressing, and sweeping techniques, reveals the depth of enlightenment he/she has reached up to that point. “It is said to be a picture of the mind” explains award winning calligrapher Shoho Teramoto, “because the circle projects one’s mind directly.”
9. “Cute”: Kawaii (かわいい) is the quality of cuteness in the context of Japanese culture. It has become a prominent aspect of Japanese popular culture, entertainment, clothing, food, toys, personal appearance, behavior, and mannerisms.
Nippon Airways’ Pokemon Jet.
Kawaii in Japanese sushi.