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Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence [Kindle Edition]

Andrew Juniper

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"A rich read detailing the history, art, culture, design, and spiritual aspects of all things wabi sabi. Explains it deeply and accessibly at the same time."—Chicago Tribune

"For the majority of Japanese, traditional Japanese culture is a lot like fishing. Everyone has fished, but not everyone is a fisherman. Only a few can tell you what every lure, bobber, and fly in a tackle box is. Even less could use them. The fact is, after reading this book, you'll understand both wabi sabi and Zen Buddhism better than 99.99% of the Japanese population." — Introvert Japan


Developed out of the aesthetic philosophy of cha-no-yu (the tea ceremony) in fifteenth-century Japan, wabi sabi is an aesthetic that finds beauty in things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Taken from the Japanese words wabi, which translates to less is more, and sabi, which means attentive melancholy, wabi sabi refers to an awareness of the transient nature of earthly things and a corresponding pleasure in the things that bear the mark of this impermanence. As much a state of mind—an awareness of the things around us and an acceptance of our surroundings—as it is a design style, wabi sabi begs us to appreciate the simple beauty in life—a chipped vase, a quiet rainy day, the impermanence of all things. Presenting itself as an alternative to today's fast-paced, mass-produced, neon-lighted world, wabi sabi reminds us to slow down and take comfort in the simple, natural beauty around us.

In addition to presenting the philosophy of wabi-sabi, this book includes how-to design advice—so that a transformation of body, mind, and home can emerge.

Chapters include:
  • History: The Development of Wabi Sabi
  • Culture: Wabi Sabi and the Japanese Character
  • Art: Defining Aesthetics
  • Design: Creating Expressions with Wabi Sabi Materials
  • Spirit: The Universal Spirit of Wabi Sabi


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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) 3.7 von 5 Sternen  18 Rezensionen
93 von 96 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Exploring the Wabi Sabi Concept 29. November 2003
Von Mark G. Jones - Veröffentlicht auf
This book is a manifesto for a traditional Japanese aesthetic. The author begins with an operational definition of wabi sabi: "If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi sabi" (p. 11). He then proceeds to round out this definition by examining different aspects of the concept of wabi sabi such as its historical origin in Zen, its development in Japanese culture, and its expression in Japanese arts and crafts. Finally, he lists design criteria, identifies suitable materials, and sketches out ethical principles that are required for the creation of objects that are wabi sabi.
The author's tone sometimes becomes anxious and urgent when discussing commercial culture and design, both in the West, where materiality is "ever-encroaching" (p. 3), and in Japan, where "the space afforded to wabi sabi is certainly on the decline, and its future relevance to Japan is under threat" (p. 58). Also, he treads very lightly when discussing the way wabi sabi objects became status symbols in Japan.
The volume itself is a well-designed paperback with a readable font, wide margins, and austere black-and-white photographs that present some very memorable images.
Immediately after finishing reading this book, I wanted to give it a rating of four stars. The next day I noticed that I was thinking about the spaces and objects in my life a different way, so I've upped the rating to five stars. Read the book and give it a few days to work.
50 von 52 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Wabi Sabi - Beyond Hobby 19. Januar 2006
Von Uitlander - Veröffentlicht auf
Although concepts of Wabi Sabi have been around for centuries, it is wryly amusing that no Japanese has ever attempted an analysis. (All the books on this subject seem to be by Westerners with certain orientations.) This is because Zen disdains intellectualism and dismisses rational approaches to satori out of hand. The Japanese logic has always been to avoid the subject, because the very use of prose is to admit one's spiritual failure.

Andrew Juniper has come to satisfy our rational cravings with a cogent, indeed elegant little book. He even attempts a definition of the term on page 51: "Wabi sabi is an intuitive appreciation of transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. It is an understated beauty that exists in the modest, rustic, imperfect, or even decayed, an aesthetic sensibility that finds a melancholic beauty in the impermanence of all things."

Is not every syllable meaningful? I am very grateful for bi-cultural people who write so well. He explores the nexus between Zen, Japanese culture and wabi sabi in straight forward language that yet remains respectful. He excels at big picture description. "The Universal Spirit of Wabi Sabi" is a short concluding section with prose as jarring as it is graceful.

I am not about to wabi-sabiize my life. Such change is for young radicals. But I do think Westerners as well as Eastern converts to Consumerism should be aware of alternatives that someday may be thrust upon us. There will come a time when planned obsolescence will be regarded as criminal, so you may want to invest a few shares in a good wabi sabi mutual fund. Juniper's book will get you started.
40 von 49 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen Just what I was looking for. 16. Dezember 2004
Von Eric John - Veröffentlicht auf
Smellpuppies review below couldn't be more off the mark even. Juniper's book delves more deeply - yet with brevity - into the history of the Tea Ceremony, Zen Buddhism, Modern Art and the philosophy of wabi sabi aesthetics than any other books I have on the subject.

Update Aug 31, 2013

Actually, this is an update review. I forgot about my original review and after reading the book again yesterday, I unwittingly came to write another one. So yes, I still highly recommend it.
30 von 38 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
2.0 von 5 Sternen Pro wabi sabi / Anti modernity 24. März 2008
Von The Lucid Librarian - Veröffentlicht auf
This book is clearly and carefully presented and easy to read. Juniper firstly provides a history of religion (Taoism and Zen Buddhism) to provide the background for the development of the Wabi Sabi aesthetic and philosophy. He goes on to reveal how wabi sabi is expressed in: culture, art, design and spirit. This author provides an odd mixture of intellectual entry points to understand wabi sabi.

Where the writing is strongest is where it is descriptive and attempts to translate for non-Easterners the principles and philosophy of those that follow this aesthetic in their work or approach to life.

"There is within the Japanese a fascination with death, and unlike the West, which tends to shy away from what might be considered morbid deliberations, the Japanese seek to harness the emotive effect of death to add force and power to their actions. With this force also comes a sense of inconsolable desolation, and it is this feeling to which the term sabi is often applied." (p49)

Where the writing seems somewhat prosaic is where it references practical tips for enthusiasts or would-be artisans to appreciate and recognise the design approach and outcome. However, in describing the method and expression of wabi sabi in artisanship a more realistic appreciation is enabled (even if the reductive listing of design criteria seems somewhat at odds with the subtle and poetic nature of the aesthetic).

"The examples of textures are almost limitless and include the cracked mud walls of a tearoom, the uneven weave of antique mosquito nets, the coarse feel of an unglazed pot, and even the worn contours of a tool handle. Textural complexity and randomness are essential elements in wabi sabi, for without them the piece will not truly suggest the arbitrary nature of evolution and devolution.

Design criteria:
- Rough and uneven
- Variegated and random
- Textures formed by natural sporadic processes" (p110)

Where the writing shifts between the traditional and the modern is where some interesting insights into Japanese culture emerge. Though the author has little to no appreciation of contemporary Japanese culture in except where it seems to satisfy aspects of wabi sabi (or exemplify its superiority in contrast).

"A million miles from the "love hotels" and the uncontrolled urban sprawl, tucked away in the back streets of Kyoto, one can find the Tawaraya Hotel, an oasis for the seeker of the quintessential expression of Japanese hospitality. Once could be forgiven for not even noticing the low-level building, as there is little on the outside to suggest the history contained within." (p62)

"It lives on in the simple clean design of the first Sony Walkman, in the austere and sober Ando architecture, and in the handmade pottery that is still a feature of everyday life." (p65)

Where the writing is weakest is when it veers into the polemic.

"As an art based on a philosophy of disciplined non-materialism and nonrationalism, wabi sabi may be able to inject some perspective on the unrestrained hedonism of today." (p97)

This bundling of insights is both useful and higgle-de-piggledy.
9 von 10 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
5.0 von 5 Sternen he's got it. 2. Juni 2008
Von S. J. Masty - Veröffentlicht auf
Writing about wabi-sabi is as vexing as writing about zen, part of its own inspiration. it's hard to write about something that defines itself as antithetical to verbiage, about something that is physically killed off by language. using words to describe zen and its travelling companions are nearly -- nearly -- impossible by definition. the author, who practices wabi-sabi through what seems to be an attractive and successful design company in posh Chichester (UK), occasionally wades into the swamps of verbiage (on this subject every author does, even DT Suzuki) but he never stays damp for long and always emerges to provide more information, while continuously honing and refining his definitions.

this is a very good effort at explaining spirituality and aesthetics in a culture quite different than ours in the West. he writes masterfully, and whether he is uncommonly empathetic all around, or uniquely wired into the Japanese weltanschaung (or both), i don't know. but it is a short, competent and oftentimes beautiful little book. buy this, buy suzuki on zen and japanese art, then save the rest for an unusually fine piece of bizen-yaki or shigaraki-yaki ceramic (knowing that these two books should be enough).
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