What is wabi-sabi?

You may have come across the word rumors before, which is a Japanese expression that refers to an aesthetic concept of perceiving beauty in imperfection. This might sound a bit vague, so let’s dive into the ideas behind it. rumorslook at some famous historical figures who helped shape it, and talk about the role it plays in modern Japanese culture.

Let’s start by dissecting the expression itself. Wabi (Wabi, Wabi) and said (寂, さび), the compounds that make up this word, were originally used as separate concepts. The first word denotes the beauty of the simple and the rustic, while the second has the meaning of deterioration over time. Both terms were used in connection with living a secluded life in the country. Together, however, they indicate a concept of appreciation for the simple and transitory aspects of life.

The wabi-sabi story

The art of bonsai came from mainland Asia, as did the ideas that formed the beginning of the rumors concept

The notion of rumors it has been a part of Japanese culture for centuries. It has its roots in Zen Buddhism, which was brought to Japan in the seventh century by travelers returning from mainland Asia. In addition to Zen Buddhism, other important ideas that came from the Asian continent during this period were the Chinese script (modern kanji), tiny trees in small containers (now known worldwide as bonsai), and the art of ikebana (flower arranging). Zen Buddhism evolved into its present known form in the 12th century and quickly gained a large following, popularizing the ideas of simplicity and impermanence.

Wabi-Sabi Influential Personalities

Sen no Rikyu

matcha and whip
Sen no Rikyu revolutionized the Japanese tea ceremony

A central figure in the development of the rumors concept is Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591). He is considered the founder of the Japanese tea ceremony as we know it today, and he evolved the practice to focus on rustic simplicity rather than displaying expensive bowls of tea. His influence was significant enough to earn him the position of tea master to important historical figures such as feudal lords Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the latter eventually ordering Sen no Rikyu to commit ritual suicide when he was one of Sen no Rikyu’s confidants. the. Despite this tragic ending, Sen no Rikyu’s ideas of a simplistic and austere aesthetic helped shape the Japanese tea ceremony and, more broadly, the general perception of the aesthetic in Japan.


Matsuo Basho had a significant influence on the concept of rumors

Another Japanese historical figure who left his mark on the concept and popularity of rumors is Matsuo basho (1644-1694), possibly the most famous haiku poet in history. He wrote the following legendary haiku that many people will recognize:

furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto

an old pond / a frog jumps / the splash of water

As seen in this haiku, his writing emphasizes beauty in simple, everyday events. He writes about the natural scenes that surround him and captures the feeling of them with simple elements. Although he made a living as a teacher in Edo (modern Tokyo), he chose to leave city life behind and wander through rural Japan, finding inspiration in the wild and rustic nature.

Wabi-sabi temples

Ryoanji Temple Stone Garden

Ryoanji temple rockery
Of the 15 rock formations in this zen garden, only 14 can be seen at a time

When thinking of Zen Buddhism, most people will think of Zen gardens: carefully designed and manicured arrangements of rocks, moss, pruned trees, and gravel. The gravel is often raked to form a pattern that represents ripples in the water. Rather than mimic the reality of nature, Zen gardens were created in Buddhist temples to capture the simple essence of nature, suspended in time, which aided Buddhists in their Zen meditations. The most famous zen garden today is the Rockery of Ryoanji Temple, which is said to have been created in the late 15th century. The meaning of the rock formations in the garden is controversial, but they are arranged in such a way that they cannot all be seen at once from any angle. Of the 15 rocks, only 14 are visible at a time, and the 15th are said to only be seen upon reaching illumination. The wall behind the rocks also has a special meaning. The clay used to make it has been dyed brown and orange hues over time, reminding viewers of the “sabi” element in rumors. The rock garden itself embodies “wabi” through its simple and rustic representation of the essence of nature. Together, the garden and the wall of Ryoanji Temple form a manifestation of the rumors aesthetic.

Saiho-ji Temple

Saihoji Kyoto Koredera
Saihoji Temple is also known as the “Moss Temple”

Experts believe that the first temple to adopt the Zen Garden idea was Saihoji Temple, also known as Koke-dera or Moss Temple, established in the 14th century. The upper garden of the temple features three rock “islands”, one that looks like a turtle swimming in moss, a flat meditation rock, and a rock formation that looks like a waterfall. The rocks are surrounded by moss, although the original garden plan did not include it. Several centuries after its founding, the moss grew when the garden was left untended and is now the temple’s most famous feature. A profound example of appreciating the simple beauty found in nature.

kintsugi highlights the defects of the repaired object

Recently, the practice of kintsugi It has been growing in popularity around the world, and for good reason. The practice itself is mindful and the results are magnificent. kintsugi (金継ぎ), which literally means “to repair with gold,” is the practice of repairing pottery with lacquer sprinkled with gold dust. This process highlights and emphasizes all the places where the part has been damaged, instead of hiding them as you would expect when repairing something. In fact, the idea of kintsugi is that there is beauty in the damage of an object. The practice originated in Zen Buddhism and embodies rumors ideals deeply.

According to a famous story, Sen no Rikyu attended a dinner during one of his trips. The host was very happy to show Sen no Rikyu an expensive vase that she owned. However, Sen no Rikyu paid no attention to the vase and instead she admired the foliage on the other side of the window. After Sen no Rikyu left, the host was so frustrated with the events of the night that she broke her prized vase. The other guests hastily collected the fragments and worked to fix it by practicing kintsugi. The next time Sen no Rikyu came to visit him, she saw the vase with its golden veins and said, smiling knowingly, “Now it’s beautiful.”

wabi sabi today

sakura cherry blossom
The fleeting beauty of cherry blossoms is another embodiment of the ideas behind rumors

You may already be familiar with Japan’s craze for cherry blossom season. For two precious weeks (or sometimes even less), the cherry tree the trees bloom, covering the earth in a pink and white blanket. The Japanese flock to parks and riverbanks to marvel at the beauty of the flowers before they fade and don’t appear for another year. The same kind of ritual happens in the fall when the leaves change color. The transitory nature of these phenomena is said to be reminiscent of the ephemeral nature of life itself.

Let rumors inspiring him to embrace humility, simplicity, and impermanent natural occurrences, just as he continues to inspire the Japanese in countless ways.

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