Yoshizen's Blog

Wabi – Sabi

wabi-sabi1-a09a7150Time to time, you might have heard the Japanese words, Wabi and Sabi, especially in relation to the Haiku Poet Basho or about Tea making and its pottery work. (such as tea bowl)  The word Sabi is related to Sabi-shii or Sabi-reta etc all of those meaning may be clearer in the visual metaphor than a lexical explanation (since those notions has to be grasped by the naked perception not by the thinking brain = hence direct transmission) — imagine you came across the place looks like abandoned or inhabited houses. = you may use a word ghost town.  No single soul on the street neither any sign of daily activity. Though, it is the very matter I’ve talked about in the previous post = if you were a westerner, your psych imagine a ghost town in a western film which is a dry, dusty, sun stricken street of wooden hoses — but here, in Japanese case, it has to be darker, under the shade of the tree, and rather wet, moss-covered half rotten houses. = you may feel even spooky.  This is rather exaggerated case of Sabi-shii scene.  And if you were here alone, you must feel quite Sabi-shii / lonely or desolated.  Then stretch your imagination further to the inside or the back of the house, what sort of the things you may find — wooden utensil ?  or a kind of bowl for eating, drinking ?  — a kind of the people used to live here, might be a poor farmer or casual worker helping those farmers = anyway, having had hand to mouth kind of the life = everything was a bare minimum.  So, if the bowl was not wooden but a pottery, how it looks like.  A bowl made to exchange for few vegetables or a caught bird, the pottery wouldn’t have a nice glaze or any decoration = just enough function for daily use

wabi-sabi2In the case of pottery, those images are the completely opposite of the Wabi, Sabi. Or I should say the typical decoration in the western standard, which the people think “gorgeous”. (but may be rather poor taste though) 

wabi-sabi3-001And in comparison, this is a Japanese dish in its decorative formal style. (This is Nabeshima. — If this one had no clack, it could fetch £10,000 even though this one was made by a trainee (= the lines were rather messy), hence second grade) —– Still, you may noticed that the stark contrast in the visual design = The western approach try to fill all the space with decorative images but Japanese leave the blank space.  Why ? It’s because of the Zen philosophy.   Western philosophy says, Nature avoid the vacuum but Zen is the matter to live with the Void.   So, to the westerner, gorgeous mean filled with nice decoration but Zen sees the peace in the blanc space.  If the nature was not in the free space, it is not natural but a fraud.  And Zen reject any intentional act as an unnatural fraud.  Especially in terms of Tea making, it got to be absolutely humble and everything has to be a bare minimum. —– This principle was in strict force, almost to an austere level.  So, when this principle was applied, a tea bowl has to be as a bare minimum = away from any intentional, artificial decoration or even an attempt to make it looks good.  In this philosophy, Tea-master Rikyu found the cheapest and the most humble pottery made for and used by the poorest people was the most suited for Tea making, which showed the Wabi and Sabi.    (Photo above right)   And this is the typical sample of the Wabi.  (In fact, this was the back or bottom of the dish the photo before.) = There was no intention to make it looks any better — it was naturally shaped and finished.  Its unassuming naturalness was not created by any intention but rather say, it just happened because it did nothing particularly. This absence of human intention = nothing is the core of Wabi. = poor humbleness, be natural in its material is the matter.  —– So, to a potter, this is the most difficult paradox in the pottery and the ZEN. = Tea bowl have to be made but made without having any intention to make it.   The answer is,  Make it with the mind of NO-Mind = Mushin in Zen. 

Wabi Chawan(In practice, just to be a potter, not a business man but just potting and let the pot to have its own fate = a pot made out of soil should have the face of soil and show the face burnt by the fire.)  (Photo above are the most tipical Wabi bowls, left was made by Koetsu)

wabi-sabi4-003wabi-sabi5-a09a7149(To an untrained eyes, “rustic” or lack of skill may looked like or confused with Wabi, though, the important point is, Wabi’s roughness or unevenness  was created by the unexpected accident, such as a fallen ash or unevenness of the fire not by the hand.)  = Think, Karma created Wabi not the hand let alone the brain deliberately thinking.  And the participant for tea ceremony has to appreciate such imperfect feature as an encounter on the moment.  (Which called Keshiki.) — The photo above, the vase showed a kind of Wabi on its glaze though, its pretty shape was too commercial.  Yet still, the right one seemed to have certain character to join Wabi = it’s a poor mans non-assuming daily mug, rather cheap product still it IS nothing else of Just a mag ! — but the photo left is a typical sample of a sham pretense.  On the surface of the mass-produced cup, a fake pattern of the dripped glaze was painted.

—– Now you might start to understand why Japanese garden or even an arranged flowers never had pattern or even a symmetry.

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4 Responses

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  1. elenacaravela said, on February 7, 2017 at 16:06

    All beautiful examples. I enjoy all of the styles, although I understand your descriptions.

    • yoshizen said, on February 7, 2017 at 16:13

      Thank you Elena.
      Wabi Sabi is the hard subject. 😀

  2. heroskusanogmailcom said, on February 9, 2017 at 10:59

    i didnt understand before!!! Cheers Yoshi

    • yoshizen said, on February 9, 2017 at 11:34

      Hi Heros
      Good. Shigaraki isn’t far from where you are. Visit there and have a fun with a lots of Tanuki. 😀


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