Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Japan Diary -- Wabi Sabi

There is a concept in Japanese culture called wabi-sabi that is broadly defined as transience or imperfection or asymmetry in nature, at least that what it means to me.  This concept stems from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence: impermanence, suffering, and emptiness of the self.

 I first heard about wabi-sabi in a store in Taos, New Mexico by the name of Wabi Sabi, long before I ever dreamed of going to Japan. This store sells household items crafted from wood whose inherent beauty lies in its own imperfections, gongs, wind chimes, and has a fountain running though it.

The idea enchanted me. It seemed a way to express my own aesthetic sense in two words. "Chasing wabi sabi," I admit, was one motivation for my Japan trip -- though I'm not so foolish to believe that an American can capture such a concept in 10 days in Japan.

 These are photos that said wabi sabi to me, though I can't explain why in all cases.

 This photo is nothing fancy -- just weathered wood on a fence that could be anywhere in the world. I found the subtle colors and textures quite enticing.

A detail from a bamboo forest outside Kyoto. Again, I found the special quality in the ordinary. I love the subtle textures and colors of this image.

This is an image of lichen on stone, no big deal. It could be taken anywhere in the world, including my own back yard, but the stones caught my fancy in Japan. I love the way the moss and lichen add character to the stones, each with a life story -- for the moss and lichen that story is recounted in seasons, for the stones it is marked in millennia.

I can't say for sure why this image ended up in my wabi sabi folder, except perhaps as a contrast. This photo, taken in Takayama, Japan, is a very Japanese scene, but with all of the control, order, symmetry, and modern references that counter balance wabi sabi.

Still seems wabi sabi to me. But then I'm still learning.