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Wabi-Sabi: The Japanese Philosophy of Embracing Imperfection.

By: Tess Buckley

Wabi-Sabi Aesthetic and Lifestyle

Wabi-Sabi is an ancient aesthetic philosophy that is rooted in Zen Buddhism. This traditional Japanese aesthetic is a worldview that is centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. Wabi-Sabi bowls are a symbol of purity and simplicity in which they are handmade and irregularly shaped, with uneven shape, glaze, cracks and a beauty in the deliberate imperfection.

The Practice of Kintsugi: The Art of Repair

Japanese art has been influenced by Zen and Mahayana philosophy, the acceptance and contemplation of imperfection are an important part of this culture. As a result, many practices have adopted Wabi-Sabi aesthetics such as Honkyoku, Bonsai cultivation, Ikebana, Zen gardens, and Kintsugi. Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the cracks with lacquer dusted with powdered gold, silver or platinum. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object rather than something to disguise. The broken object is repaired with gold and the flaw is seen as a unique piece of the object’s history, which only adds to its beauty. Kintsugi promotes beauty in broken things, the bowl becomes more valued because of the gold lacquer holding it together. By highlighting the cracks and repairing broken pottery Kintsugi works to accept change and illustrate that damage or breakage is simply a part of our journeys.

Types of Joinery

There are Three Major Styles of Kintsugi:

Crack (ひび) The use of lacquer and metal dust to attach the broken pieces back together or fill in missing pieces.

Piece method (欠けの金継ぎ例) An entire piece is missing and so it is replaced with gold or lacquer compound.

Joint call (呼び継ぎ) A similar but non matching fragment is used to replace a missing piece, creating a patchwork effect.

Traditional and Contemporary Artists

Mio Heki - Artist Bio: “She restores national treasury buildings and important cultural properties in Japan. In 2016, she established ‘urushi atelier hifumi’ in Kyoto, where she does a variety of work with Urushi ( a Japanese lacquer from Urushi tree sap). Works such as restoring lacquer ware Kintsugi (repairing broken ceramics and pottery with Urushi), repairing or restoring antiques, making custom ordered lacquer ware, creating jewellery, and holding workshops.

Through these workshops (Urushi and Kintsugi), she would like to introduce people to Urushi - as a material which was inherited from ancient Japan – and show how interesting Urushi lacquer and the Japanese lacquer technique can be. She thinks that Urushi (the gift from Mother Nature) is a very attractive and important material, as it holds the traditional way of life and history of Japan. She also respects the wisdom of the ancestors. Traditions and art, both ancient and modern, are her interests. In the performing arts field, she makes accessories, ornaments, specially ordered tools and ‘salso’ apparatus for dancers and works to co-produce artworks with fellow artists.”

Rachel Sussman – Artist Bio: “Sussman is a contemporary artist based in Brooklyn who mends cracks in our urban environment with her series Sidewalk Kintsukuroi. Inspired by kintsugi—also known as kintsukuroi—the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with gold, Sussman brings this philosophy to city pavements.”

Implementing the Practice of Wabi-Sabi

Wabi-Sabi, put simply, is an appreciation of the beauty in the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring and monumental. Four simple ways to practice Wabi-Sabi in our everyday life are as follows: savor the present moment, extract learning, embrace your personal story and find beauty in simplicity. Let us work to appreciate our history, quirks and imperfections and include Wabi-Sabi in our lifestyle.

Check out this article for six helpful strategies for embracing imperfection:

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