22 Apr Japanese Ethos – The Shibusa Aesthetic
The real face of beauty in the Land of the Rising Sun
Suggesting over commanding, appreciating daily life, enjoying natural irregularities are just some of the principles behind shibusa (渋さ), the profound cultural Japanese conception of aesthetic. The origins of the term draws upon silent, subtle and intrinsic qualities. A person, performance or an object can be considered shibui (渋い, adj. for shibusa). Each is authentic and appealing without the need for decoration.
From the architecture of the Katsura Palace near Kyoto to gentle ikebana flower disposition, from dirty uniforms of countryside farmers to fine pottery craftsmanship. The shibusa, in having no mechanical regularity or quantitative precision, invites participation by the observer. It nudges rather than ordering.
Traditional Ikebana, rampant.jp, 2021
According to Yanagi Muneyoshi (director of Nihon Mingeikan, 1889-1961), shibusa can be discerned in several qualities: simplicity, implicitness, modesty, silence, naturalness, roughness, and normalcy. Yanagi challenges conventional ideas of art and beauty, exploring the Japanese appreciation for “objects born, not made.” The shibui sense of the unfinished is seen as a call to participate, an invitation to become; not a cause for reprimand.
“The world abounds with different aspects of beauty. The lovely, the powerful, the gay, the smart—all belong to the beautiful. Each person, according to his disposition and environment, will feel a special affinity to one or another aspect. But when his taste grows more refined, he will necessarily arrive at a beauty which is shibui. Many a term serves to denote the secret of beauty, but this is the final word.”
The principle of the unfinished can be contrasted with an opposite principle in traditional pedagogy in which anything left unfinished is seen as a weakness or a deficiency. Every form and detail is designed to contribute towards a whole experience: the wave in the grain of a structural post, the uneven texture of a tea bowl, the solitary blossom in a flower arrangement. Natural elements help to connect and re-align us with nature on a subconscious level.
Anyone, anywhere can “think” shibui. It is an approach to life, an attitude that notices and values the beauty in everyday. Receding distractions, stepping outside and walking more can be as useful as using handcrafted items instead of disposables, or making adjustments to interior spaces during seasons. It’s about distancing the unnecessary to appreciate imperfections.