Soulful Simplicity

I’ve suddenly found myself with more time to read.


I recently picked up Wabi-Sabi by Beth Kempton, which delves into the origin and dimensions of the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi. In one of the earlier chapters, Kempton dissects Japanese beauty into four pillars:

Hade - Showy, gaudy, liberal. A bright kimono, bejeweled nails, high-color manga characters. The colors can be anything from primaries to neons.

Iki - Chic, stylish, worldly, and sophisticated. The appearance of being effortlessly cool (although it may have taken some effort); sharp suits and sophisticated officewear, confident use of color. Iki is not overly refined, pretentious, or complicated. Tasteful sensuality can be iki. (It shares the same root as the words for “pure” and “unadultered”.) Iki carries a connotation of having an appetite for life.

Shibui - Sometimes translated as austere, subdued, subtle, or restrained, although to the Japanese the word is more complex, suggesting quietness, depth, simplicity and purity. In recent times, shibui has come to mean something closer to quietly cool, well-designed, or an understated style. In terms of colors, it suggests dark, rich, and deep, often with some neutrals and a hint of a dusty accent color, like the palette of a hydrangea.

Shibui objects appear to be simple overall but they include subtle details, such as textures, that balance simplicity with complexity. This balance of simplicity and complexity ensures that one does not tire of a shibui object but constantly finds new meanings and enriched beauty that cause its aesthetic value to grow over the years.

Jimi - Literally means “earth taste” - sober, conservative, unobtrusive. Neutral, beige, or dull gray tones. If patterned, a low-contrast all-over plain design.

I was taken by the depth of meaning and subtle nuances in the Japanese approach to language, visuality, and our relationship with nature. The attention to texture, color balancing, and light that all together constitute a feeling of oneness and joy in imperfection.

It’s more of a bathtub read, but a welcome reprieve from the overly academic or life-optimizing self-help variety. Not to mention the book itself is finely made, with a shibui cover itself. Recommend for anyone interested in training their visual discipline and finding a deeper appreciation for the spell of the sensuous.


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