Category Archives: wabi sabi

Today's Lessons

Get up and do something first thing in the day.

Be active.

Be motivated by love.

Don’t be silent anymore.

Simplify life — remove whatever and whoever does not inspire, inform, add personal value and friendship, or provide a needed service

Clean it up, and make it easy to keep clean.

There will always be more things to learn and do as the day progresses, but you have to start somewhere.

Living Wabi Sabi

wabi-sabi-as-ux-design-approach-for-web20 Interesting ideas for wabi sabi as applied to web design

Wabi Sabi is simple… Anyone can benefit from the ideals of Wabi Sabi, just as any kind of fruit becomes sweeter from the rays of the sun. The sun doesn’t add sugar; the sugar is already in the fruit. The sun only helps reveal it. In this way, your philosophy of life is like the fruit, and Wabi Sabi is like the sun making sweeter what was already there… It’s what we do today with our knowledge of the past that matters. I want you to see how to apply Wabi Sabi here and now. I want you to know how living Wabi Sabi can transform your life, now and in the future. Like sugar from the sun.” — Taro Gold, Living Wabi Sabi

Fueki Ryuko

Fueki Ryuko — ‘Constancy and change.’ The enduring patterns in the ever changing stream of nature. Sometimes understood to be the eternal truths that poets try to communicate.

permanence and change“,
synthesis between tradition and innovation
Fueki Ryuko 不易流行(ふえきりゅうこう)

fuga no makoto is a result or product of the dynamism of two colliding forces: fueki ryuko, which is another important teaching of Basho.
Fueki simply means “no change” and refers to values of a permanent and enduring nature.

Ryuko, on the other hand, means “changing fashions of the time” and refers to newness, innovation, originality or unconventional values that would break with old ways in a revolutionary manner.

For instance, Beethoven created new and innovative music, ushering in a new age and setting a new trend. However, he did not do so without first having been steeped in classical music of an old tradition. Thus he had fueki ryuko and left legacy of permanent value.
None of us is Beethoven, but all of us can become a little Beethoven! Fueki ryuko is an abbreviation of senzai-fueki ichiji-ryuko (eternal no-change and temporary fashion).

When fueki and ryuko collide and interact in a dynamic explosion of creative haiku writing, the result could be like a newly born baby taking after both parents but different from both. And there is a single ultimate value that lies beyond fueki ryuko, and that is nothing but fuga no makoto.

— Susumu Takiguchi

“”Fueki ryuko”… is one of the essential principles of what I call Basho’s dialectic poetics. It should be given much greater significance than was originally perceived. This is because it now applies to almost all aspects of modern Japan where the balance between fueki, or permanent values, and ryuko, or changes, is shaky. A similar situation is also seen elsewhere in the world.

The two words can be interpreted in more ways than one. Fueki, for instance, can represent unchanging tradition while ryuko can represent changing fashion. Since the two are contradictory there should be a kind of creative tension generated between them. This tension should keep haiku fresh, creative and interesting. If people cling to tradition and neglect newness (or atarashimi) inherent in fashion, then haiku could become stale, imitative and boring. If, on the other hand, people indulge in newness without tradition, haiku could become gimmicky, incomprehensible and nonsensical. Needless to say, fueki should be genuine fueki, and ryuko should be genuine ryuko. And here starts one of the most important arguments, “What makes fueki and ryuko genuine?”” — Susumu Takiguchi

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 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

More on fueki ryuko here.

The Way of Elegance

“Something is elegant if it is two things at once: unusually simple and surprisingly powerful. One without the other leaves you short of elegant. And sometimes the “unusual simplicity” isn’t about what’s there, it’s about what isn’t. At first glance, elegant things seem to be missing something… Elegant ideas—products, services, performances, strategies, whatever—all have some degree of these four elements: symmetry, seduction, subtraction, and sustainability. ” — Matthew E. May

“For me, elegance is not to pass unnoticed but to get to the very soul of what one is.” — Christian Lacroix

“Be patient, do nothing, cease striving. We find this advice disheartening and therefore unfeasible because we forget it is our own inflexible activity that is structuring the reality. We think that if we do not hustle, nothing will happen and we will pine away. But the reality is probably in motion and after a while we might take part in that motion. But one can’t know.” — Paul Goodman, “Five Years: Thoughts During a Useless Time” via Whiskey River

“Elegance is not the prerogative of those who have just escaped from adolescence, but of those who have already taken possession of their future.” — Coco Chanel

“Desires are many, needs are few. Needs can be fulfilled; desires, never. A desire is a need gone crazy. It is impossible to fulfill it. The more you try to fulfill it, the more it goes on asking, asking, asking….Once you start learning how to choose the peaceful, a small room is enough; a small quantity of food is enough; a few clothes are enough; one lover, a very ordinary man, can be enough of a lover.” — Osho, “Everyday Osho”

“Can anything be so elegant as to have few wants, and to serve them one’s self?” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“To live content with small means; to seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion; to be worthy, not respectable, and wealthy, not, rich; to listen to stars and birds, babes and sages, with open heart; to study hard; to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions, hurry never; in a word, to let the spiritual, unbidden and unconscious, grow up through the common – this is my symphony.” — William Channing

What if deep poetry flowed through your day-to-day life? What if writing that poetry was a path to enlightenment? Basho, the grandfather of haiku poetry, named this path, “the Way of Elegance” because it connects you to grace and fills your life with subtle beauty….

One of the key concepts on the way of elegance is “furyu.” Basho discovered in his life of reading and thinking and wandering and teaching and writing that all of these things contributed to Furyu which literally means “in the way of the wind and stream”. It is putting yourself in the traffic, launching yourself into the action, not necessarily as a player, but deliberately, as the eyes and ears and taste buds and sense of smell. Furyu is a powerful tool that shows you what you like, and also what you love.

When a person has followed the Way of Elegance for a while she reaches a state where all she wants is to attend to quality moments with focused acceptance. Such a stance is hard to amintain; her family and friends will push her to distraction, pressure her to be normal. If you see her in this situation, enter her sabi, show her your wabi. Encourage her to follow furyu with you.” — Richard R. Powell, “Wabi Sabi for Writers”

“Furyu” is composed of two characters meaning, “wind” and “flowing.” Like the moving wind, it can be sensed but not seen. It is both tangible and intangible in its suggested elegance. And like the wind, furyu points to a wordless ephemeral beauty that can only be experienced in the moment, for in the next instant it will dissolve like the morning mist.

“The simplicity of wabi-sabi is best described as the state of grace arrived at by a sober, modest, heartfelt intelligence. The main strategy of this intelligence is economy of means. Pare down to the essence, but don’t remove the poetry. Keep things clean and unencumbered, but don’t sterilize. (Things that are wabi-sabi are emotionally warm, never cold.) Usually this implies a limited palette of materials. It also means keeping conspicuous features to a minimum. But it doesn’t mean removing the invisible connective tissue that somehow binds the elements into a meaningful whole.” — Leonard Koren, “Wabi-sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers”

As a human being, I can only say that the future is yet to be made. Let us go forth and make it, but let us make it as beautifully as we can. The degree of elegance is determined by our will and the perfection of our own personalities. — Deng Ming Tao, 365 Tao


Japanese characters for Shibui.
Unobtrusive and unostentatious, intrinsically good (can even be rich), patterns not regularly placed, often unfinished, creating interesting spaces. Simple, with an economy of line and effort. Nothing complicated could be called “Shibui”. Must have depths worth studying, after first noticed, must have design character, and be fitting exploitation of the nature of the material and the method. Should not be shiny or new looking, though small touches of sparkle can be used. Even if new, object should have dull patina that comes with loving care. If applied to color scheme, the large areas of color should be dark, rich and unobtrusive, but there  should be a small sharp accent color somewhere to give astringency and interest. The essence of controlled understatement, aimed to produce tranquility. A feeling of modesty and humility is necessary in striving for “shibui”.

“Shibui” is the essence of Japanese culture and is considered the ultimate in taste, for all but the very young. There are two strains of it: the folk craft school of thought and the aristocratic school of thought. In actuality, one can encompass both.

“House Beautiful” magazine, August 1960, article entitled “The Shibui Syndrome”.

“Like all transcendent qualities, the word Shibumi eludes definition. To the Japanese, those externals which soothe and satisfy the spirit are Shibumi. These things are instinctive, not shaped by reason and not easily put into words: but Shibumi suggests art appreciation, culture, ultra-refinement, quiet taste, and a great consideration for others. Nothing “too much” is in it, and the word is in itself a protest against ostentation. It confirms the traditional appreciation of serenity, introspection, modesty, formality, nobility, generosity, reserve and conservatism. As the antithesis of bizarre it is opposed to everything that is garish, loud, noisy or commercial hype.

No single word in the English language exactly describes Shibumi as the Japanese understand it. The artistic and sensitive foreigner would describe Shibumi as the acme of elegance and refinement, the result of years of training and the use of restraint in the highest sense. Japanese speak of Shibui in relation to customs, houses, rooms, decorations and art, persons, dress as well as the tone of voice. It marks the character of the proper order of things.

In short, all parts must be related to the whole, and the whole must be seemly to the place and circumstance. I have coined a word “appropriateness” (I know there is no such word in English, but it seems appropriate) describing a quality that is much lacking in our times and most people.

Shibumi is found in all the traditional and quality arts of Japan; that esoteric quality introduced into art by Zen Buddhism. It is the art that conceals art. ” —  W.G. von Krenner

“The concept of shibusa includes a range of related meanings that cannot be embodied in any other term, English or Japanese; the concept is unique. When attempts at translation were made, we received contradictory impressions: one person might say that shibusa means refined and subdued, while another might translate the term as rough or astringent. Eventually, however, after enough examples of shibusa had been gathered, we began to formulate an intuitive grasp of this standard of taste, even though we could not precisely define it. — David and Michiko Young

Shibui (渋い?) (adjective), or shibumi (渋み?) (noun), is a Japanese word which refers to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. Like other Japanese aesthetic terms, such as iki and wabi-sabi, shibui can apply to a wide variety of subjects, not just art or fashion.

Originating in the Muromachi period (1333-1568) as shibushi, the term originally referred to a sour or astringent taste, such as that of an unripe persimmon. Shibui maintains that literal meaning still, and remains the antonym of amai (甘い?), meaning ‘sweet’.

However, by the beginnings of the Edo period (1603-1867), the term had gradually begun to be used to refer to a pleasing aesthetic. The people of Edo expressed their tastes in using this term to refer to anything from song to fashion to craftsmanship that was beautiful by being understated, or by being precisely what it was meant to be and not elaborated upon. Essentially, the aesthetic ideal of shibumi seeks out events, performances, people or objects that are beautiful in a direct and simple way, without being flashy.

A certain love of roughness is involved, behind which lurks a hidden beauty, to which we refer in our peculiar adjectives shibui, wabi and sabi. .. It is this beauty with inner implications that is referred to as shibui. It is not a beauty displayed before the viewer by its creator .. a piece that will lead the viewer to draw beauty out of it for themselves. The world may abound with different aspects of beauty. Each person, according to his disposition and environment, will feel a special affinity to one or another aspect. But when their taste grows more refined, they will necessarily arrive at the beauty that is shibui.” — “The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty”, Soetsu Yanagi, Bernard Leach

“Throughout your stay in Japan you must have heard the word shibui uttered frequently. It is impossible to translate this word accurately into English. ‘Austere’, ‘subdued’, ‘restrained’, ‘sombre’ – these words come nearest to acceptable substitutes. Etymologically, shibui means ‘astringent’, and is used to describe profound, unassuming and quiet feeling. … this simple adjective is the final criterion for the highest form of beauty.” — “Folk Crafts of Japan”, Soetsu Yanagi

A shibui room brings out deep conversation; a shibui woman draws out a thoughtful man; a shibui man listens to a thoughtful woman; a shibui child is a rare child indeed. Shibui is marked by three main characteristics: wabi, sabi, and yugen.” — Richard R. Powell, ” Wabi Sabi for Writers”

Her life is a fine piece of Japanese pottery
in the Shibui style,
so crafted that to see the cup’s exterior
is to be privy only to its dull sienna clay
and to the flavored warmth with which you choose to fill it.

But drained of all your preconceptions
you may discover the bowl inside —
a high-glazed hyacinth blue
that rushes to your heart
and there remains, like an indelible message
you remember from a fortune told in tea leaves once,
like a wet jasmine flower
that you can never rinse away.

— Robin Morgan

Shibui allows viewer participation in the artist’s art. It’s particularly valuable in an age of highly finished and sophisticated machine-manufactured products. Shibui comes naturally, shows the hand of the maker, and triumphs gesture and the vagaries of process. While there are hundreds of ways to bring shibui into your life, if you think you might include the idea in your painting, here are seven:

Use the whole brush–right down to the ferrule.
Have more than one color on the brush at one time.
Hold the brush well up on the handle.
Work freshly and let intuition be your guide.
Feel the energy and direction of your subject.
Be not uptight, but relaxed.
Quit when you’ve connected and while the going is good.

— Robert Genn