Wabi-Sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection. (Not to be confused with wasabi – the Japanese plant with a thick green root that tastes like strong horseradish.)
I love the idea of Wabi-Sabi. It celebrates dents, cracks, rust, and all the other marks that time and weather have left behind. Wabi-Sabi allows us to embrace age spots, tarnish, frayed edges…and the loving use they represent.
The Legend of Wabi-Sabi
According to Japanese legend, a young man named Sen no Rikyu sought to learn the elaborate set of customs known as The Way of Tea. He went to the tea-master, who tested Rikyu by asking him to tend the garden. Rikyu cleaned up debris and raked the ground until it was perfect, then scrutinized the immaculate garden. Before presenting his work to the master, he shook a cherry tree, causing a few flowers to spill randomly onto the ground.
To this day, the Japanese revere Rikyu as one who understood, to his very core, this deep cultural idea known as Wabi-Sabi–a philosophy that reveres age and imperfection. (At that time [15th century], it was also protest against the prevailing cultural aesthetic of lavishness and ornamentation.)
You might love Wabi-Sabi, too, and you may not even know it. Do you like the vintage farmhouse feel? The comforting patina of the scarred, the cracked, and the well-worn?
Maybe you call it ‘shabby chic’ or ‘rustic charm.’ Whatever it’s called, look around your home to see if you can find examples of Wabi-Sabi style. When I looked around, I found things I actually bought simply because they looked old. (I even made stuff look old, because it looked too new.)
But then my I found the authentic–most meaningful–Wabi-Sabi items.
Author Cecile Andrews says, “”Sabi’ means ‘the bloom of time,’ connoting tarnish and rust, and the enchantment of old things. It brings appreciation for dignified, graceful aging: worn cobblestones, weathered wood, oxidized silver. Paired with ‘wabi,’ it becomes a signature philosophy that reveres age, imperfection, and natural order.”*
If only we could embrace the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi like Rikyu did. Perhaps we could find peace, beauty, and acceptance in the passing of time. Wrinkles, crinkles, age spots, and all.
William Shakespeare obviously understood the philosophy of Wabi-Sabi:
And he wasn’t even Japanese.
*Less is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness.