Have you heard of the Japanese term wabi-sabi? Wabi-sabi is about finding beauty in the acceptance of imperfection and temporality. For example, it’s being comfortable with a little peeling paint, worn wood or the wear marks in an old oriental rug.
Some of this comes from the deep-rooted culture of frugality. In Japan there is great virtue in simplicity and economy. In the west sometimes this idea gets interpreted into a sort of trendy minimalism. While I’m very attracted to the concept of having less ‘stuff,’ the faux-spiritualization of minimalism is off-putting. But wabi sabi is different than minimalism. It encourages repurposing, recycling and taking care of the things you already have. It can’t be mass produced.
I just got back from a trip to Tokyo. There I found a perfect example of wabi-sabi at the Tokyo National Museum. It is a glazed tea bowl that has been named “Bakohan.” And it’s broken. What makes this little tea bowl so special to the Japanese, a national treasure even? In great part, it’s the beauty of the intricate and loving repair made when the bowl cracked centuries ago. Appropriately, a Japanese word for “beautiful” utsukushii evolved from an original meaning of “being loved.”
I love the concept of wabi-sabi and find it very freeing, especially when thinking of my home. There is a commercial version of perfection in the home can feel cold and unwelcoming. It’s also unattainable or at the least unsustainable. Living, being loved, and having a purpose — these things leave marks. Wabi-sabi is about embracing those marks.
This approach isn’t an excuse to not clean your house or see something inadequate through rose-colored glasses. But it is a concept that makes peace with the natural processes of time and age. It’s accepting weather and wear and change. It’s a perspective that finds grace for life’s imperfections. It’s the opposite of what the commercial world is selling us, but I think that’s ok.
Photo credit @myrimi for the feature image of handmade Japanese pottery by Babaghuri. One of my favorite people to follow on Instagram.