In the Western World we are obsessed with perfection. We see it all the time on television and social media and all around us in advertising. This makes us want the perfect body and the perfect job and the perfect life. Of course, this is an unobtainable goal, but that’s the message that we get from commercials on television and social media platforms like Facebook; everything has to be perfect.
A Japanese aesthetic philosophy, on the other hand, focuses on modesty and the appreciation of imperfection and simplicity. No big cars or big houses, but the opposite of that; more is less. This philosophy is called “Wabi-Sabi” and it does not directly translate into English. Can we, in the Western World, learn something from this appreciation of the imperfect?
Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese philosophy that respects the perishable and the imperfect. It believes that things are more beautiful when they have been affected by nature and impermanence, this is what gives objects their beauty and their individuality. This philosophy tries to bring back a form of common sense to everyday life, therefore they don’t necessarily see it as a philosophy but they consider it more an important part of their everyday lives. It is an acceptance of the fact that things – but also we as human beings – are perishable.
According to this Japanese philosophy, to have that realization; the fact that we are all mortal, is what gives us true wisdom. But it is not an excuse to be lazy, it is an understanding of the fact that everything is passing and imperfect – in objects as well as our everyday lives. However, for the Japanese Wabi-Sabi is not something that is rationally explainable, it is an appreciation of the irrational and the incompleteness. It is more of a feeling than it is a rational term. Even by me writing about it and putting it on paper I reduce its value and therefore it loses its mystery and beauty.
This philosophy believes that things are more beautiful when they show signs of wear and old age, this is what gives them character. Take, for example, a broken ceramic bowl, most of us, myself included, would throw it out. But Wabi-Sabi believes that visibly repairing a broken object is what makes it beautiful and shows its character, they call it kinstukuroi: “to repair with gold”. To repair something with gold is understanding an object is more beautiful because it’s been broken and fixed.
All in all, the essence of Wabi-Sabi is: live in the now. And although the grass might be greener in your neighbors yard, the point is to learn to appreciate your own grass more.