3 Beautiful Abstract Japanese Concepts

  • 1. Wabisabi わびさび

    Wabasabi is a concept in Japanese art derived from Zen Buddhism, known as “the beauty of imperfection” in daily life. It is a worldview that preaches acceptance of temporality and uniqueness. The aesthetic values of imperfection, impermanence and incompleteness are what make something beautiful; nothing is flawless, nothing is whole, and nothing is forever. It extols irregularity and appreciates the integrity and intrinsic nature of things. Objects or phenomena that bring a sense of tranquility or invoke spiritual thought are redolent of wabasabi.

    During the Edo era, understanding ensou 円相 (infinity or nothingness, symbolized by a maru 丸 circle) and accepting the imperfections of the “being” was the rudimentary level of the path toward satori 悟り(enlightenment, awakening) and kenshou 見性 (seeing into one’s true nature). This may be seen in the Japanese zen garden, or karesansui 枯山水.

    Certain trends in Japanese pottery embody this concept of natural simplicity with asymmetrical styles and deliberately chipped designs. An exquisitely beautiful and elegant example would be kintsukuroi 金繕い, the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, silver or platinum lacquer while recognizing and eulogizing internally that it is more beautiful for its story and the damage it has suffered. Another aesthetic value, miyabi 雅, or elegance, is closely linked.

    The picture above illustrates wabi sabi in Genko-an, Kyoto. Can you guess which is the “Window of Enlightenment” and “Window of Confusion”?

    2. Geido 芸道

    Geido embodies the spirit of discipline and ethics in the traditional arts such as Noh 能 theater, calligraphy, sado 茶道 (tea ceremony), and ikebana 生け花 (flower arrangement) amongst others. In case you’re wondering, the character for gei as in geisha. The level of commitment, discipline and ethic in not only the work but also the life (I guess their work is their way of life) of a geisha, exemplifies the gravity and importance of geido. Martial arts warriors followed the theory of geidoron 芸道論, through systemized regimen called kata 方, or “way”.

    It is no wonder that the Japanese so seriously take pride in each and every job, from train conductor to road traffic controller to bank teller, that they make this their undertaken responsibility and fulfill their duties to their utmost ability. The spirit is most certainly admirable and commendable.

    3. Mottainai もったいない

    The 3Rs: Reduce (ゴミ削減), Reuse (再利用) and Recycle (再資源化) are the tagline for mottainai. This also applies to intangibles such as time, and conveys the sense of value and worth when doing actions that are wasteful. It originates from a Buddhist term, and in the traditional sense indicates remorse in misusing or wasting something sacred. There is also a connotation of the appreciation of nature and the efforts put in by others. For instance, a product would be used right until the end of its life, and not before putting in one’s best to lengthen it. Another example is the habit of eating all the food on one’s plate, not only discouraging waste but also appreciating the efforts of the chain of events and people who made it possible to have food on one’s plate. Isn’t it just wonderful to see that recycle bins are used everywhere in Japan?

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