Japan: Wabi Sabi and Intentional Living


It was apparent from the very beginning of our stay in Japan that we were in the best of hands. From the hosts of our hostels and airbnb houses to the people serving our food at restaurants, there was never a lull in the ultra hospitable atmosphere.


From what I experienced, this also plays a part in their own lifestyles. Most people we came in contact with exuded strong intent and care. This was displayed in the arrangement of their houses (minimal space and maximum functionality) and in the way they carried themselves.


For example, each element of any given meal was presented eloquently and had equal importance to each other part of the plate or arrangement. Food vessels were very specific to the type of food and eating with chopsticks felt like a form of dance. From my perspective, there seemed to be an element of grace in each action and creation put forth.


During this journey I was reading something I had picked up in the USA that outlines the character and applications of Wabi Sabi. The term was originally used in association with a style of tea ceremony that diverted away from the grande perfectionism of Chinese ceremonies and introduced a humble unconventional process based on impermanence and the rough aesthetic of nature itself. It soon evolved into an entire world view and way of living. During my travels it felt like those ideals were harmonious with the core of the Japanese culture, but modern Westernization was dulling its spark. The patterns of life seemed to be steeped in natural cycles, but the conveniences of technology distracted from that. For example, the deep tradition of public respect was awe inspiring during our journeys through the intricate Tokyo subway system, but it was saddening to see almost every single person deeply engaged only with their smartphones. It was very interesting to compare the history and application of the Wabi Sabi concepts to modern Japan.


I hope to integrate the things I learned there into my life and art practice. It all comes down to care for the present moment. I want to design my living spaces as well as my schedules to promote simplicity, energy, intention, and accord with my natural surroundings. One of the primary dilemmas I have found recently is how to create artwork without getting caught up in materialism. Do I commit to using only biodegradable and sustainably sourced materials? This seems daunting and possibly limiting, but it may be worth it in order to satisfy my desire to live intentionally.


On the other hand, I think it is also always important to keep in mind the harmony of opposites, where there must be destruction and shadow along with all things we as humans consider good and wholesome. There is a balance to be found between freedom of creation and awareness of ones impact on the world. I plan to pursue this balance through the principles of Wabi Sabi and through remaining present in each changing circumstance.


©2019 by Sarah Rosenthal