Why are Japanese designs so beautiful?
When we launched our collection of face masks last year, it was obvious that the Japan-inspired ones were overall favorites. Our Zen and Kimono collections got the best reviews—and we’re very grateful to you for that! Now following your lead, we have just launched a collection of Kimono-inspired silk scarves.
But what is it about the Japanese aesthetic that makes it so appealing?
More than the art itself, I believe it’s the philosophy behind it that attracts us. Japan is the birthplace of enduring age-old traditions and mindsets that encourage us to be better humans.
Think about their tea ceremonies. Based on harmony, purity, tranquility, these elaborate rituals are all about respecting the drink and connecting to the present moment. Ceremonies are often reserved for special occasions, yet the practice of slowing down is so ingrained in the culture that the Japanese naturally take their time to appreciate food and drink, and truly savor the moment.
Their ikigai philosophy encourages us to find our life’s meaning. It is a state of wellbeing that comes from being devoted to what we enjoy, and to get us there it asks: Do you love what you’re doing? Are you good at it? Does the world need it? Are you paid for it? If you’ve answered yes to all four questions, chances are you’re living in abundant ikigai. And if you aren’t, it’s never too late. The process of finding your ikigai can be a nourishing, soul-searching one, so start small, release yourself to the universe, cherish the joy of the small things, and be present, always in the here and now.
Zen, the ancient school of Buddhism, reinforces this idea. According to Merriam-Webster, the word zen has come to mean ‘a state of calm attentiveness in which one's actions are guided by intuition rather than by conscious effort.’
Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all live calmly, effortlessly, zen? If we didn’t have our minds and bodies full of stress and everyday preoccupations?
The Japanese Aesthetic
Maybe that’s why the Japanese aesthetic is so appealing to us: it provides us with a much-needed sense of peace, a reminder to slow down and focus on simplicity.
Japanese art is often based around nature, with cherry blossoms, snow-capped mountains, rivers and waves… These are the classic celebrations of landscape, but even today’s artists apply the same principles of balance, minimalist clean lines, soft colors. They show us that it’s the space around the objects that create the beauty and feeling of peace we are drawn to. Could it be said that this is the opposite of the ‘objectification’ we are used to in the West?
It’s not only apparent in the art. Take a moment to look at Japanese gardens, architecture, flower arrangements, pottery, calligraphy... Can you see the space? How does it make you feel?
Now, this isn’t meant to be a language lesson, but I find it fascinating to see the clear philosophical concepts on which the Japanese aesthetic is based.
Yugen: profound grace and subtlety
Wabi: transient and stark beauty
Sabi: the beauty of natural patina and aging
Often found together, wabi-sabi represents something that is imperfect, impermanent, incomplete—and we are drawn to that. We accept the imperfections we witness in Japanese art, the aging yet timeless beauty of a piece, its subtlety, its transience…
But do we accept these traits in ourselves?
In Western culture, we often focus on the young, on what’s shiny, showy and new. Yet life is not always like that. Of course we have moments when we feel especially vibrant, refreshed and ready to take on the world, but we wouldn’t be able to do so without the past and wisdom that come along with us.
In today’s fast-paced world, we’re given a challenge to race to the top. Multitasking has been glorified, but should it be? While being able to focus on several things at once can be useful, is it really good for us? Are we truly focusing then, or are we trying to squeeze in as many things as possible into one moment?
What would happen if we just focused on this one thing now? If we appreciated what exists without always wanting something different, something more? Would that moment be more enjoyable, more valuable, if we weren’t thinking about the three or four other things we had going on at the same time? Yes, it would.
To me, Japanese aesthetic is such an honest representation of life. Yugen, wabi, sabi. These are traits that accept and appreciate life’s rhythm and cycles. Its concepts are related to nature, but also reflect human character. The real way we are, and the beauty of our natural patina...
You may have heard that in Japanese culture, when a favorite cup or bowl breaks, instead of using super glue or simply throwing it out, they repair it with gold, silver or platinum dust and lacquer. This art of pottery repair, kintsugi, honors the part that was damaged or broken as part of its history, rather than as something to hide or disguise. Being cared for and mended gives the item depth, and shines a light, in fact, on its transformation.
Now what if we did this with ourselves? What if we accepted all our cracks and our breaks, and lovingly painted them in gold?