Beauty in time: The Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi


Wabi Sabi cannot be explained, Marcel Theroux found when travelling in Japan. It is ingrained in Japan – hard to disentangle as a concept.

Then again, perhaps it’s not that hard to get really.

What really matters?

Is it the next shiny new thing? Or is it the thing that has memories and history and feelings baked in?

Being attached to material things is at once the source of prosperity and anxiousness.

The more we have, the more we want – and the more we have the more we fear losing them.

The Wabi part of Wabi Sabi has changed over time from meaning the desolation of poverty to the freedom that comes from being unattached.

Some of us can now have so much, that to truly appreciate things we must select only those things that truly matter to us.

When we are not attached to things, even the things that we have made ourselves, then we can focus on craft – getting satisfaction from the act of doing rather than the fact of owning.

The Sabi part of Wabi Sabi is the concept of a life cycle – how time adds meaning to things.

Something when first made has no history yet.

No one has used it, infused it with memories and given it meaning.

The act of using creates memories and imperfection.

A tea cup may get chipped over time – but it will also be associated with the memories of when we used it and so we treat it more carefully – with respect.

The concepts put together create a spare, austere philosphy that realises that happiness comes from creating value over time – whether in objects, relationsips or work.

It doesn’t need to be perfect – it does need to have meaning.

Perhaps the current buzzword of authenticity is trying to reach the state of Wabi Sabi – a simple, natural and tranquil existence that comes through in what we have and what we do.

Maybe we should aim to have less, that we value more, and appreciate better over time.

3 Replies to “Beauty in time: The Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi”

  1. This has helped clarify to me what wabi-sabi is and why we are attracted to it. I especially like the idea of an object being ‘infused’ with memories.


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