Japanese words and phrases don’t necessarily translate well into English. Mostly because they contain an essence that we don’t necessarily have words for. I’m on a teeter-totter with wabi-sabi because I think I understand it and all of a sudden I realize it is much subtler than I had envisioned.

This is my most recent iteration, thanks to Nick Kemp, author of Ikigai-Kan, who pointed me to Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture, by Roger Davies and Osamu Ikeno. They break down the etymology of the expression:

Etymology – originating in the medieval

“Wabi is an aesthetic and moral principle, which emphasizes a simple, austere type of beauty and a serene, transcendental frame of mind yet also points to the enjoyment of a quiet, leisurely life, free from worldly concerns.”

“Sabi reflects qualities of loneliness, resignation, tranquility, and old age, while also connoting that which is subdued, unobtrusive, yet tasteful.”

Perhaps ikebana, as suggested by the authors is an example we can relate to. These are not bouquets of gorgeous, colorful flowers that we often admire in the west, but rather ” a few small flowers, wild grasses and branches with tiny buds.”

The banner photo today may not be beautiful in the western sense. I took this photo, in 2014 when I visited this famous, Ryōan-ji dry garden. “The clay wall, which is stained by age with subtle brown and orange tones, reflects “sabi” and the rock garden “wabi”, together reflecting the Japanese worldview or aesthetic of wabi-sabi.”

A little more snooping around and I found these considerations:

For Richard Powell, author of Wabi-sabi Simple, “Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.”

Living Wabi Sabi by Taro Gold,  claimed that if you ask people on the street in Tokyo to describe wabi-sabi. “they will likely give you a polite shrug and explain that Wabi Sabi is simply unexplainable.”


In spite of all this indecisiveness, wabi-sabi is now being used, as a helpful concept for reducing perfectionist thinking. That may be technically incorrect, but still a useful misunderstanding. So, even when we don’t get it exactly right or fully understand it, I like to offer “the spirit of it” to people, including myself, as a significant way to accept the impermanent and find the good in our flaws. Perfection is a handicap for many.

To also allow ourselves to be touched by what no one else may notice but you notice and you love it.

Like this photo, which I took yesterday morning,  in my family’s backyard. I can’t explain why I like it so much or how it makes me feel well. It just does. And as I looked at it, wabi-sabi came to mind and heart. And this is the reason I find myself here today talking about it.


1:) Yet another definition: “Wabi-Sabi – the beauty of imperfection, impermanence and incomplete.” This excerpt from Leonard Koren’s definition of Wabi-Sabi comes from his book, by the same name, for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers.

2:) This magnificent 12-minute film on the spirit of being human, aging, love, and the whole catastrophe, as Zorba says. Give yourself the gift of this beautiful love story. Watch here.

3:) Thank you for spending your time here with me. A deep bow! Best wishes as we begin the exciting month of March: Daylight savings time on the 12th. I know some of you don’t like it but I confess to loving the extra evening hour.  See you next week, Trudy


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