Understanding “Wabi-Sabi”

It’s couth to use the phrase “wabi-sabi” to describe something or more recently, someone. Be that as it may come as a shock to some of you this usage is meaningless. The term 侘び寂び in Japanese is used to describe those hand made objects of character which it’s appeal is uniquely characteristic of it’s essence. In other words it’s flaws are apart of it’s uniqueness. But this is a stretch; if we were to look at the kanji or Chinese characters they come to mean double negatives. 侘しい (wabishii) means dreary, shabby, and lonely. 寂しい (sabishii) means lonely, wretched… You get the idea.

So where did this confusion occur? Well literal translations only take us so far. Let’s look at the meaning in it’s original context. The term originates from the Japanese tea ceremony to convey a sort of aesthetic feeling it’s quite sad and quiet affair; considerably refined. The tea bowl in this ceremony is the centerpiece of the whole ordeal because like the tea and like the tea drinker are imperfect and not immortal, so is the clay that the bowl was crafted from. Very philosophical zen ideas that really were too ambiguous to use outside of this context.

So in the 21st century the word is still here and now the west has gotten a hold of it. To really preserve the true meaning of the idea it would only be best to continue with the original idea. That is those things made by hand with reverence and are coveted as heirlooms. Especially things made from natural materials. I would even say pipe smoking to be a modern equivalent, as the pipe is made from briar and the tobacco is refined for aromatic qualities.

I think wabi-sabi is an idea we can use quite frequently if we step away from convenience and get back to using our hands and minds to appreciate what nature offers us for free.

One thought on “Understanding “Wabi-Sabi”

  1. Recently have been working my way down the list over at Sanforized blog and have been introduced to your blog… Great posts!I have much interest in Wabi-Sabi and agree that the term has been used very loosely (myself included)Thank you for your post on this subject.I look forward to more of your posts.Cheers.

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