Wabi and Sabi


Wabi and Sabi

侘び 寂び

wabi ... simple and quiet, austere refinement

sabi ... elegant simplicity ... patina, rusty

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Wabi and Sabi: The Aesthetics of Solitude
the hermitary and Meng-hu

Nearly all the arts in historical China and Japan derive their aesthetic principles from Taoism and Zen Buddhism. The two great philosophical traditions proved compatible specifically with the culture and psychology of Japan. The hallmark of a Chinese or Japanese masterpiece free of modern influence continues to be the naturalness and uncontrived, even "accidental" appearance of the work. The artist works with and harmonizes nature and its universal accidents.
The guiding principles are wabi and sabi.

The two dominant principles of Chinese and Japanese art and culture are wabi and sabi. Wabi refers to a philosophical construct, a sense of space, direction, or path, while sabi is an aesthetic construct rooted in a given object and its features, plus the occupation of time, chronology, and objectivity. Though the terms are and should be referred to distinctly, they are usually combined as wabi-sabi, as both a working description and as a single aesthetic principle.

Sabi as the outward expression of aesthetic values is built upon the metaphysical and spiritual principles of Zen, but translates these values into artistic and material qualities. Sabi suggest natural processes resulting in objects that are irregular, unpretentious, and ambiguous. The objects reflect a universal flux of "coming from" and "returning to." They reflect an impermanence that is nevertheless congenial and provocative, leading the viewer or listener to a reflectiveness and contemplation that returns to wabi and back again to sabi, an aesthetic experience intended to engender a holistic perspective that is peaceful and transcendent.

The Japanese haiku poet Basho transformed the wabizumai he experienced into sabi poetry, and the melancholy of nature became a kind of longing for the absolute. But this longing never fulfilled -- the "absolute" is not part of Zen vocabulary -- makes the tension between wabi and sabi an enriching and inexhaustible experience.

Read the full article HERE:
  © 2004, the hermitary and Meng-hu


Daisetz T. Suzuki, who was one of Japan's foremost English-speaking authorities on Zen Buddhism and one of the first scholars to interpret Japanese culture for Westerners, described
wabi-sabi as "an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty."
He was referring to poverty not as we in the West interpret (and fear) it but in the more romantic sense of removing the huge weight of material concerns from our lives. "Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats, like the log cabin of Thoreau," he wrote, "and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall."
Until the fourteenth century, when Japanese society came to admire monks and hermits for their spiritual asceticism, wabi was a pejorative term used to describe cheerless, miserable outcasts. Even today, undertones of desolation and abandonment cling to the word, sometimes used to describe the helpless feeling you have when waiting for your lover. It also carries a hint of dissatisfaction in its underhanded criticism of gaud and ostentation-the defining mark of the ruling classes when wabisuki (a taste for all things wabi) exploded in the sixteenth century.
In a country ruled by warlords who were expected to be conspicuous consumers, wabi became known as "the aesthetic of the people"-the lifestyle of the everday samurai, who had little in the way of material comforts.
Then along came Murata Shuko, an influential tea master who also happened to be a Zen monk. In a radical fashion departure, Shuko began using understated, locally produced utensils during his tea gatherings. Saying "it is good to tie a praised horse to a straw-thatched house," he combined rough, plain wares with famed Chinese utensils, and the striking contrast made both look more interesting. Shuko's successor, Jo-o, was even more critical of men whose zeal for rare or famed utensils was their main motivation for conducting tea. Jo-o began using everyday items such as the mentsu, a wooden pilgrim's eating bowl, as a wastewater container, and a Shigaraki onioke, a stoneware bucket used in silk dyeing, as a water jar. He brought unadorned celadon and Korean peasant wares into the tearoom.

Long essay about Wabi and Sabi :
source : www.nobleharbor.com/tea



The Japanese view of life embraced a simple aesthetic
that grew stronger as inessentials were eliminated
and trimmed away.

One tea teacher I talked with begged me not to use the phrase wabi-sabi because she believes the marriage dilutes their separate identities;
a tea master in Kyoto laughed and said they're thrown together because it sounds catchy, kind of like Ping-Pong.
In fact, the two words do have distinct meanings, although most people don't fully agree on what they might be.

architect Tadao AndoTadao 安藤忠雄

MORE of my quotes about
. Wabi and Sabi .

the wabi-sabi house,the Japanese art of imperfect beauty


- quote - Stephen Mansfield -
‘Wabi Sabi: The Art of Impermanence’:
A surprisingly accessible guide to traditional Japanese aesthetics

Japan’s passion for the modern coexists with aesthetic proclivities that favor antiquity and refinement.
One expression
of the appreciation for age and beauty is the much-cherished effect known as wabi-sabi, the subject of Andrew Juniper’s well-considered and surprisingly accessible book. The etymology of the expression is revealing: wabi stems from wabishii (lonely, wretched), while sabi touches both sabiru (to age and mature) and sabishii (lonely, inconsolable). The compound suggests a desolate beauty transformed by weathering, the resulting patina of age creating an object or scene of exquisite maturity and taste.
Japanese aesthetics can seem impossibly complex. Central posits of Zen aesthetics, such as yūgen (unfathomable depth), vital to the principals of Japanese garden design, for example, may baffle the uninitiated. But the aesthetician visiting the garden of Ryoanji Temple will be well equipped to admire its fine rock compositions as well as its often overlooked aburabei walls.
Here, the clay has been infused with oil, which has seeped out over the years, causing pleasing changes in the tonal quality of its surfaces. We know that, unlike the rocks in the garden, the walls will collapse or have to be shored up and rebuilt. Its very impermanence increases its existential value.
This is wabi sabi.
The cumulative effect, as Juniper explains in his graceful text, is to suggest both passing time and time transfixed.
- reference source : Japan Times August 2017 -


Jane Reichhold

The Technique of Wabi - the twin brother to sabi who has as many personas can be defined as "(WAH-BEE)-poverty- Beauty judged to be the result of living simply. Frayed and faded Levis have the wabi that bleached designer jeans can never achieve." ... more wabi than sabi because it offers a scene of austere beauty and poignancy.

Read more here:


Leonard Koren

The sixteenth-century Japanese tea master and Zen monk, Sen no Rikyu,refined the culture of wabi-sabi.

a.. Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

b.. It is a beauty of things modest and humble.

c.. It is a beauty of things unconventional.

d.. Wabi-sabi is a nature-based aesthetic paradigm that restores a measure of sanity and proportion to the art of living.

Read more here:
 © Leonard Koren

Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
by Leonard Koren

"Wabi-sabi represents the exact opposite of the Western ideal of great beauty as something monumental, spectacular, and enduring. Wabi-sabi is not found in nature at moments of bloom and lushness, but at moments of inception or subsiding. Wabi-sabi is not about gorgeous flowers, majestic trees, or bold landscapes. Wabi-sabi is about the minor and the hidden, the tentative and the ephemeral: things so subtle and evanescent they are invisible to the vulgar eyes.

Like homeopathic medicine, the essence of wabi-sabi is apportioned in small doses. As the dose decreases, the effect becomes more potent, more profound. The closer things get to nonexistence, the more exquisite and evocative they become. Consequently to experience wabi-sabi means you have to slow way down, be patient, and look very closely.
source : www.spiritualityandpractice.com


For Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers

by Leonard Koren

- - - From the Introduction
Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
It is a beauty of things modest and humble.
It is a beauty of things unconventional.

The immediate catalyst for this book was a widely publicized tea event in Japan. The Japanese aesthetic of wabi-sabi has long been associated with the tea ceremony, and this event promised to be a profound wabi-sabi experience. Hiroshi Teshigahara, the hereditary iemoto (grand master) of the Sogetsu school of flower arranging, had commissioned three of Japan's most famous and fashionable architects to design and build their conceptions of ceremonial tea-drinking environments. Teshigahara in addition would provide a fourth design.

After a three-plus-hour train and bus ride from my office in Tokyo, I arrived at the event site, the grounds of an old imperial summer residence. To my dismay I found a celebration of gorgeousness, grandeur, and elegant play, but hardly a trace of wabi-sabi. One slick tea hut, ostensibly made of paper, looked and smelled like a big white plastic umbrella. Adjacent was a structure made of glass, steel, and wood that had all the intimacy of a highrise office building. The one tea house that approached the wabi-sabi qualities I had anticipated, upon closer inspection, was fussed up with gratuitous post- modern appendages. It suddenly dawned on me that wabi-sabi, once the preeminent high-culture Japanese aesthetic and the acknowledged centerpiece of tea, was becoming-had become?-an endangered species.

Admittedly, the beauty of wabi-sabi is not to everyone's liking. But I believe it is in everyone's interest to prevent wabi-sabi from disappearing altogether. Diversity of the cultural ecology is a desirable state of affairs, especially in opposition to the accelerating trend toward the uniform digitalization of all sensory experience, wherein an electronic "reader" stands between experience and observation, and all manifestation is encoded identically.

In Japan, however, unlike Europe and to a lesser extent America, precious little material culture has been saved. So in Japan, saving a universe of beauty from extinction means, at this late date, not merely preserving .....
source : www.amazon.co.jp


More of my LINKS and QUOTES about - - Wabi and Sabi

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Visiting Shiki’s House

The home of Masaoka Shiki in the Negishi District of Tokyo was often referred to as
"Negishi no sato no wabizumai", the simple abode of the retired poet.

No. 82 Kami-Negishi was the address of the Shiki-an (Shiki Hut), which housed the bed-ridden genius, his mother and sister and was frequented by his friends and followers. He had lived for two years in No. 89 of the same Kami-Negishi. Having been a "semi-detached" house of lower-grade samurai of the Maeda Han (clan), his new house was a relatively big one by the standards of the time. The size of the whole place was 55 tsubo (1 tsubo=6 "shaku" square) of which more than half was garden (according to Hekigodo, the house measured 24 tsubo). Shiki paid a rent of 6 yen and 50 sen per month.

suzume yori uguisu ooki Negishi kana

more bush warblers
than sparrows are here –
Ah, Negishi!

Read more here :
Tr. Susumu Takiguchi

Wabizumai, a simple hermitage

 © bird.zero.ad.jp: More Photos of Negishi


Four haiku with the same two lines
"the lonely abode in Negishi" through the four seasons

haru wa yuki Negishi no sato no wabizumai
spring is leaving

semi shigure Negishi no sato no wabizumai
shrill of cicadas

hana susuki Negishi no sato no wabizumai
pampas grass blossoms

furu yuki ya Negishi no sato no wabizumai
it is snowing

 © 三重県教育文化会館


wabite sume tsuki wabisai ga Naracha uta

Live poor! be bright!
Moongazer sings
a song of Nara gruel

Tr. Haruo Shirane

MORE about Naracha and Haikai 奈良茶
. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


by Donald Richie


Still in the Stream
Here you will find articles that explore wabi sabi and related subjects.

© Wabi Sabi Haiku


CLICK for original article
wabi sabi and the cat
Mark Reibstein and Ed Young

Loneliness (sabishisa)

Wabi, Sabi, Wasabi ...


Wabi Sabi in Haiku
The two word phrase "wabi sabi" originated in the Japanese language but has made its way into English largely because English lacks an adequate equivalent.

Even in Japanese the exact meaning of the phrase is difficult to pin down. It is first and foremost a beauty seen in aged or worn objects; objects that contain deep patterns, patina, character, or qualities of authentic individuality.

This article presents examples of haiku that exhibit wabi sabi or focus on a wabi sabi subject. The commentary that accompanies each poem discusses the images the poet chose, what the poet left out, what is implied, and what techniques contribute to the success of the poem.
When a haijin (a writer of haiku) writes a haiku about something wabi sabi she will often attempt to capture both its transient beauty AND the abiding qualities within the beauty, what haiku masters in years past called, Fueki Ryuko. Such haiku the word haiku on parchment (partial) stimulate feelings of favorable melancholy. The most successful haiku of this type produce a clarity of perception in which the reader sees the subject of the haiku for what it is. There is a release of any desire to repair or arrest the effects of time, experience, or age. Everything is just right the way it is, defects and all.

Richard R. Powell
source : www.stillinthestream.com


Wabi-Sabi and the Japanese Heart
The characteristics of Wab-sabi aesthetic are simplicity, modesty, asymmetry, asperity and intimacy. Nature does not produce things in absolute symmetry, nature is functional and therefore modest and so on. I think this is the Japanese way to describe things and a style that is in tune with nature.

Here is a BBC documentary about Wabi-sabi titled
“In Search of Wabi-Sabi”.
Not a great documentary on the subject but this video has surely made me want to go to Japan.
source : www.art-hose.com


karumi かるみ【軽み】 lightness
from karui (light)

Karumi- lightness or light-heartedness.
This does not mean “make light of something or anything”.
It means to avoid sentimentalism or wallowing in emotions or taking things unduly seriously. It is the simple treatment of beauty to be found in ordinary things. It is simply to depict things as they are.
It is different from the court poetry.
It is minimalist, relying on terse concrete imagery and subtlety or lightness (as the shasei of Shiki later on).
"the beauty of ordinary things spoken of in a simple way".

Karumi was introduced by Matsuo Basho late in his life.

Karumi was the most notable characteristic of Basho’s mature style. Karumi literally means a ‘light beauty with subtlety’ and was a quality Basho saw in higher levels of sabi. With karumi the loneliness of sabi opens into a contented acceptance.
When asked to describe karumi Basho said it was
“a shallow river over a sandy bed.”
source : www.stillinthestream.com

"looking at a shallow river with a sandy bed"
Tr. Stephen Addiss


Matsuo Basho's Ultimate Poetical Value, Or was it?

Susumu Takiguchi, April 1983

By contrast, karumi represents the element characterised by Basho's contemporary world of the common people whose plain speech and everyday activities provided an immensely rich source for humorous rendering and light-hearted diction of universal relevance.

karumi represents the element characterised by Basho's contemporary world of the common people whose plain speech and everyday activities provided an immensely rich source for humorous rendering and light-hearted diction of universal relevance.

Of course, the relative importance of the sabi and karumi elements in Basho's poetry varied according to different stages of his development. But towards the end of his life, the karumi element was markedly becoming more and more crucial to the perfection of the so called Shofu, the style of the Basho School. The full development of the concept karumi itself was terminated, as we have seen, by Basho's death but the implication of my hypothesis is that karumi was to have been developed into an aesthetic key word equal in its importance to sabi.

After a hard work we need a break. After a serious thing we want something light-hearted. Between acts in an opera there has been invented ballet dance. Between serious Kabuki acts, there are comic kyogen plays. In the same vein, after the serious waka poems there came light-hearted and comic verse haikai which meant, and still ought to mean, comic verse. From haikai was born what is now known as haiku, even if the word haiku itself is an old entity dating back at least as far ago as the 17th century.

source : Susumu Takiguchi / WHR August 2010
WKD : Backup Copy

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Anonymous said...

QUOTE from PhotoLife

Richard Martin

"The idea of wabi-sabi speaks of a readiness to accept things as they are.
This is contrary to Western ideals that emphasize progress and growth as necessary components to daily living.

Wabi-sabi's fundamental nature is about process, not final product, about decay and aging, not growth.

This concept requires the art of "slowness", a willingness to concentrate on the things that are often overlooked, the imperfections and the marks recording the passing of time.

For me, this is the perfect antidote to the invasive, slick, saccharine, corporate style of beauty."

Anonymous said...

Sabi in Haiku

by H.F. Noyes

The Japanese word sabi expresses a uniquely vital element in the haiku tradition. Though the
concept, like much in Japanese art, is so elusively subtle as to afford no easy accessibility to Western minds, let us at the very least be willing to confront the mystery and paradox of the term.

We are told by R.H. Blyth that "what can be said is not sabi."1 That imposes no obstacle to a haijin who understands Zen "wordlessness" as an eloquent form of communion. Take, for instance, "Autumn dusk -- /
without a cry/a jackdaw passes" (Kishu 2 ).
The deepest truths are imageless; they emanate from the
unexpressed, the wordless aspect of haiku ・however essential each word may be:

how silently
the wave-tossed log is beached
and snow-flaked
・Geraldine C. Little 3

The mystery of sabi intensifies when I quote from Basho: "Where there is no sabi, there will be
sadness."4 Then sabi cannot encompass what we usually mean by sadness. Rather, it goes beyond
happiness-sadness to the lonely quality which each thing has in its singular existence, when observed from a state of detachment.
Sabi loneliness, according to Alan Watts, is in seeing things "as happening 'by themselves' in miraculous spontaneity."5
He gives as example Buson's "Evening breeze - water
lapping against/the heron's legs." The great surprise is that when we immerse ourselves in nature, an
isolated particularity becomes to us, for the moment, all things. Sabi loneliness is a state in which, having nothing, we have all. (Not the proximity in
our language of aloneness to all-oneness.

It is a state of which Blyth says we "do not pick and choose what we are to rejoice and weep with."6 It
chooses us: "winter hill ・alone together/with wind and stars" (H.F.Noyes 7 ).

In his haiku handbook, William Higginson describes sabi as "beauty with a sense of loneliness in time."8
A fine example is "Who can be awake/the lamp still
burning ・cold rain at midnight" (Ryota 9 )

Despite undertones of melancholy in sabi, the more
desolate aspects of our human condition are, traditionally, sublimated. The sadness of transience is transcended when we go unresisting with the flow
of constant change. The loneliness that afflicts us all is not thus received, but at least for the moment, dissolved in interfusion with all around us. Tombo's
unspoken sadness over the loss of her son is, in the following, overwhelmed by her sense of the delicate beauty of one transient phenomenon:10

A hot summer wind ・
shadows of the windmill blades
flow over the grass

In the depth and breadth of a true haijin spirit such as Basho's, life's suffering and its sublime
moments of beauty and serenity are perfectly reconciled:
"A rough sea! ・Stretched out over
Sado/The Milky Way." 11

But sabi arises, above all, with the observation of the garden variety of "insignificant" detail
that makes up our ordinary lives, where sabi is not in the beauty, but rather the beauty is in the sabi. Indeed sabi is often best expressed through the "lonesome" bareness of a "poverty-stricken" style:

Visiting the graves:
The old dog
Leads the way.
・Issa 12

However much a consensus on the meaning of sabi may elude us, a humble viewpoint of selfless
detachment seems to lead us into its realm of truth:

Resting . . .
the sagging fence
goes on up the hill
・Foster Jewell 13


1- R.H. Blyth, "Eastern Culture," HAIKU
Vol. I, pg. 289

2- R.H. Blyth, HAIKU Vol. III, pg. 903
(edited version)

3- FROGPOND, November 1987

4- H.R. Blyth, "Eastern Culture," HAIKU
Vol. I, pg. 288

5- Alan Watts, THE WAY OF ZEN, pg. 186

6- R.H. Blyth, "Eastern Culture," pg. 186

7- AMBER, Spring 1989

8- William J. Higginson with Penny Harter,
THE HAIKU HANDBOOK, Glossary, Pg. 293

9- R.H. Blyth, HAIKU Vol. IV, pg. 1185
(edited version)

8- DRAGONFLY, July 1973

11- translated by Dana B. Young

12- H.R. Blyth, HAIKU Vol. IV, pg. 1028

13- VIRTUAL IMAGE, Summer-Fall, 1982


anonymous said...

Even More Mood:
Wabi, Sabi, Empty
BY Paul Watsky


Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

shibui (渋い), shibumi (渋み), shibusa (渋さ)
subdued elegance

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

iki いき / イキ / 粋 / 意気 the CHIC of Edo

The Structure of "Iki" 「いき」の構造, "Iki" no kōzō
Shūzō Kuki 九鬼 周造 Kuki Shūzō, Kuki Shuzo,
(February 15, 1888 – May 6, 1941)

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Japanese Aesthetics エスセティクス - Nihon no bigaku 日本の美学

The most common terms for aesthetics and design will be introduced here.

Gabi Greve said...

wakuraba 病葉 sickly leaves, pale leaves, weak leaves
a kigo for late autumn
and a well-loves motive in all kinds of Japanese art.
The imperfect and fleeting . . .
老葉 wakuraba, old leaves
This scroll of elegant but forceful calligraphy comprises the “Travel” (Tabi) section of the “Aged Leaves” (Wakuraba) poetry anthology, compiled by the great medieval poetry master Sōgi (1421-1502). The type of verse transcribed here is a special kind of linked verse (renga), in which the first three lines of the verse is composed by one poet, and the final two lines by another poet. During an age when printing was still rare, students of poetry had to make their own transcriptions of anthologies for study. Little is known about the calligrapher here, who signed himself Ryūkō, except that he was a renga poet of the Warring States period, who was active in Yamashiro in Kyoto and also the Mizokui district of Settsu (Osaka). Ryūkō was a pupil of the renga master Shōhaku 肖柏 (1443–1527), who had received training from Sōgi, so we can retrace the transmission of this manuscript over three generations.

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

Negishi no Sato 根岸の里 Negishi village
hatsune no sato 初音の里 village of the bush warbler