Wabi-Sabi: What does Japanese philosophy say?

Nothing is perfect, nothing exists forever: the Japanese philosophy Wabi-Sabi celebrates the imperfection of life. We explain what is behind it – and how we can integrate Wabi-Sabi into our everyday life.

Everyday life is characterized by hectic pace, by abundance, consumption and pressure to perform: where our fellow human beings are constantly posting their delicious lunch on Instagram or sharing their perfect living room on Pinterest, in reality it is more of a sandwich, shoving yesterday’s sock under bed and carrying on . But: it can hardly work in the long term.

The term Wabi-Sabi starts exactly where the buying frenzy and the eternal search for perfection stop: with the essentials. Wabi-Sabi means one holistic approach to lifewhose origins lie in Taoism and Zen Buddhism. A central point of view is the belief that the search for perfection and material possessions leads to dissatisfaction. Wabi-Sabi is also based on this: It is a way of recognizing the beauty of simple things – and appreciating what one has instead of striving for more and more.

How do you define wabi-sabi?

The philosophy has its origin in the 16th century. The concept unit itself cannot be precisely translated, but essentially consists of the two Japanese syllables “Wabi” and “Sabi”.

While “Wabi” stands for something simple, almost rustic, the syllable “Sabi” deals with the grace of aging and means something like “to be old” or “to have maturity”. Together, Wabi-Sabi stands for one imperfect purism and the beauty of the simple.

What is the Wabi-Sabi Philosophy?

There is more than just a thought behind Wabi-Sabi: Rather, there is a high art behind this concept. Whoever can accept the imperfect, incomplete and also impermanent things in life and be satisfied with them has understood the principle. It’s not about highlighting the obvious beauty and frenzy of consuming. But to enjoy what at first glance might not necessarily be “beautiful” appears. That could be the overgrown tree in our grandparents’ garden, but also our favorite vase with the fine crack or the chipped surface of the chest of drawers, which has accompanied us for so many moves.

Wabi-Sabi also shows traits of minimalism: the basis of the Japanese tradition is to get back to basics and to reflect on what is really important. But it’s not about doing without, but about being satisfied with what we have – or even less. With Wabi-Sabi we can seemingly inconspicuous Rediscover little things in our everyday life. We can make ourselves independent of property and consumption and learn to become more satisfied. In this way you can discover the good and the beautiful in many things.

[Wabi-Sabi] nourishes everything that is authentic as it recognizes three simple truths: nothing remains, nothing is complete, and nothing is perfect.

– Richard R. Powell

But not only the love of imperfect objects is at the center of Wabi-Sabi. Our everyday life is also shaped by contradictions, small missteps and confusing situations. Things rarely go the way we planned – and although that’s perfectly fine and only natural, we always get bothered by it. For many of us, the ultimate goal is perfection. Wabi-Sabi, on the other hand, focuses on the exact opposite: accepting imperfections and small errors. And maybe that’s why it has such a balancing and calming effect.

Where is Wabi-Sabi used?

In theory, this tradition quickly sounds like an almost poetic construct and almost too good to be true. In fact, however, we can discover and use Wabi-Sabi in many areas of our life: be it a brief moment of rest while drinking tea from our favorite cup or mending our best jeans – we don’t have to turn our lives upside down and muck out the Japanese philosophy of life to live actively.

In Japanese culture in particular, Wabi-Sabi is rooted in many things: The Tea master Sen non Rikyu was instrumental in the development of the Japanese tea ceremony in the 16th century and is said to have introduced the Wabi-Sabi aesthetic into custom. But calligraphy or the repair of broken objects are also shaped by the idea of ​​imperfection. For example, it says Kintsugi for a special method to repair broken ceramics: Instead of concealing the cracks inconspicuously, they are painted in gold or silver – and thus highlighted.

Wabi-Sabi: A ceramic mug that has been repaired using the Kintsugi method

© Marco Montalti / Shutterstock

Living and furnishing in the Wabi-Sabi style

Wabi-Sabi is probably the best-known area of ​​application when it comes to furnishing. It is primarily about a Living in harmony with nature – Perfectionism has little place here either. With these principles you can bring more wabi-sabi into your home:

  • rethink your consumption and get back to basics
  • use simple, local products and good quality natural materials
  • Appreciate old objects, care for them and maybe even pass them on
  • create and enjoy optical emptiness

Anyone with the thought of imperfect purism would like to furnish and live, it is best to use muted colors: from white and beige to light pastel tones to earthy colors, everything is allowed. Uniform schemes allow you to move furniture or decorations without creating a colorful mess. Your rooms shouldn’t be too crowded – because then they quickly appear overloaded. Rather, try to keep your living space simple, consciously leave areas free of objects and decorate the overall picture with special memorabilia.

Wabi-Sabi: A living room with a purist interior

© Photographee.eu / Shutterstock

Particularly natural materials like wood, wool or linen are welcome. Instead of buying new trendy furniture over and over again, you can rely on furnishings that have an emotional value and use for you. The focus is particularly on the benefit: the three tablecloths that have been gathering dust in the closet for generations, but have never been used, have earned a second life and can be cleared out with a clear conscience. Authenticity, harmony and calm are in the foreground at Wabi-Sabi – also when it comes to furnishing. And yet the same applies here: Nothing and nobody has to be perfect. Wabi-Sabi is not about renunciation and reduction, but about the beauty of special objects and moments.


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