(with pictures. how nice.)

I had a hell of a time trying to choose images for this post. Firefox even crashed. T_T Mostly staying away from clothing in favor of considering the interplay of colors, textures, patterns, arrangements, etc. — applying all that to a sense in “fashion”, design, art, or anything else comes after.

I’ve been interested in the Japanese aesthetic sense (both new and old) since I can remember. Every culture has its folk styles, but the Japanese always stood out. Where most other cultures have an abundance of saturation, bells, flowers, stripes, pom poms — you name it — in their ancient/ ceremonial / traditional garb and arts, suddenly, there’s Japan: holding back. Being somehow stark, serene, and muted, even when many different and busy patterns are layered together. “Why and how?” I’ve wondered. (Though, I won’t try to go into that question right now; that’s at least a history lesson in itself.)

These Japanese aesthetic choices underpin some wonderful design, art, clothing, and even music. Even if — or maybe especially if — subconsciously. The key, in general, is BALANCE. All of the following terms can be tied back to that single idea. Certainly one can always argue that aesthetics are subjective, but balance is everywhere in nature’s systems — that’s undeniable.


The following will all be excerpts from Wiki; simply to supply a list to read, learn about, consider, keep, reference, etc:


Shinto is considered to be at the fountain-head of Japanese culture. With its emphasis on the wholeness of nature and character in ethics, and its celebration of the landscape, it sets the tone for Japanese aesthetics. Nevertheless, Japanese aesthetic ideals are most heavily influenced by Japanese Buddhism. In the Buddhist tradition, all things are considered as either evolving from or dissolving into nothingness. This "nothingness" is not empty space. It is rather a space of potentiality. If the seas represent potential then each thing is like a wave arising from it and returning to it. There are no permanent waves. There are no perfect waves. At no point is a wave complete, even at its peak. Nature is seen as a dynamic whole that is to be admired and appreciated.

Wabi-sabi (佗寂)

represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. It is a concept derived from the Buddhist teaching of the three marks of existence (三法印 sanbōin?), specifically impermanence (無常 mujō?), the other two being suffering (苦 ku?) and emptiness or absence of self-nature (空 kū?).

Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity), simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.

In Zen philosophy there are seven aesthetic principles for achieving Wabi-Sabi:

Fukinsei: asymmetry, irregularity; Kanso: simplicity; Koko: basic, weathered; Shizen: without pretense, natural; Yugen: subtly profound grace, not obvious; Datsuzoku: unbounded by convention, free; Seijaku: tranquility.

Miyabi (雅)

is one of the oldest of the traditional Japanese aesthetic ideals … the word is usually translated as “elegance,” “refinement,” or “courtliness” and sometimes refers to a “heart-breaker”.

Shibui (渋い) (adjective), shibumi (渋み) (noun), or shibusa (渋さ) (noun)

refer to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty.

Shibusa includes the following essential qualities.

  1. Shibui objects appear to be simple overall but they include subtle details, such as textures, that balance simplicity with complexity.
  2. This balance of simplicity and complexity ensures that one does not tire of a shibui object but constantly finds new meanings and enriched beauty that cause its aesthetic value to grow over the years.
  3. Shibusa is not to be confused with wabi or sabi. Though many wabi or sabi objects are shibui, not all shibui objects are wabi or sabi. Wabi or sabi objects can be more severe and sometimes exaggerate intentional imperfections to such an extent that they can appear to be artificial. Shibui objects are not necessarily imperfect or asymmetrical, though they can include these qualities.
  4. Shibusa walks a fine line between contrasting aesthetic concepts such as elegant and rough or spontaneous and restrained.

Iki (いき, often written 粋)

… generally used in Japanese culture to describe qualities that are aesthetically appealing and when applied to a person, what they do, or have, constitutes a high compliment. Iki is not found in nature.

Iki is an expression of simplicity, sophistication, spontaneity, and originality. It is ephemeral, romantic, straightforward, measured, audacious, smart, and unselfconscious.

Iki is not overly refined, pretentious, complicated, showy, slick, coquettish, or, generally, cute. At the same time, iki may exhibit any of those traits in a smart, direct, and unabashed manner.

Jo-ha-kyū (序破急)

a concept of modulation and movement applied in a wide variety of traditional Japanese arts. Roughly translated to “beginning, break, rapid”, it essentially means that all actions or efforts should begin slowly, speed up, and then end swiftly.

This concept is applied to elements of the Japanese tea ceremony, to kendō and other martial arts, to dramatic structure in the traditional theatre, and to the traditional collaborative linked verse forms renga and renku

Yūgen (幽玄?)

The exact translation of the word depends on the context. In the Chinese philosophical texts the term was taken from, yūgen meant “dim”, “deep" or "mysterious”. In the criticism of Japanese waka poetry, it was used to describe the subtle profundity of things that are only vaguely suggested by the poems …

[It is a portal to appreciation of subtleties in this world — ethereal experiences that can only be described artfully]

Yūgen is said to mean “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering”.


refers to the various traditional Japanese arts disciplines: Noh (theater), kadō (Japanese flower arrangement), shodō (Japanese calligraphy), Sadō (Japanese tea ceremony), and yakimono (Japanese pottery). All of these disciplines carry an ethical and aesthetic connotation and teach an appreciation of the process of creation.

Ensō (円相)

[means] “circle”. A concept strongly associated with Zen. It symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and the void; it can also symbolize the Japanese aesthetic itself. As an “expression of the moment” it is often considered a form of minimalist expressionist art.

Kawaii (可愛い)

… since the 1970s, “cuteness” or “kawaii” (literally, “loveable”) has become a prominent aesthetic of Japanese popular culture.

Tomoyuki Sugiyama (杉山奉文), author of “Cool Japan”, believes that "cuteness" is rooted in Japan’s harmony-loving culture … [and] claims cute fashion in Japan can be traced back to the Edo Period with the popularity of netsuke.

Original Meaning:
The original definition of kawaii came from Lady Murasaki’s The Tale of Genji where it referred to pitiable qualities.  During the Shogunate period under the ideology of neo-Confucianism, women came to be included under the term kawaii as the perception of women being animalistic was replaced with the conception of women as docile.

Modern Origins:
The rise of cuteness in Japanese culture emerged in the 1970s as part of a new style of writing. Many teenage girls began to write laterally using mechanical pencils. These pencils produced very fine lines, as opposed to traditional Japanese writing that varied in thickness and was vertical. Also, the girls would write in big, round characters and they added little pictures to their writing, such as hearts, stars, smiley faces, and letters of the Latin alphabet.

These pictures would be inserted randomly and made the writing very hard to read. As a result, this writing style caused a lot of controversy and was banned in many schools. During the 1980s, however, this new “cute” writing was adopted by magazines and comics and was put onto packaging and advertising.

From 1984 to 1986, Kazuma Yamane (山根一眞) studied the development of cute handwriting, which he called Anomalous Female Teenage Handwriting, in depth. This type of cute Japanese handwriting has also been called: marui ji (丸い字?), meaning “round writing”, koneko ji (小猫字?), meaning “kitten writing”, manga ji (漫画字?), meaning “comic writing”, and burikko ji (鰤子字?), meaning “fake-child writing”. Although it was commonly thought that the writing style was something that teenagers had picked up from comics, he found that teenagers had come up with the style themselves, as part of an underground movement.


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    Some interesting information on japanese aesthetics that really focus on natural/intuitive aspects on life rather that...
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