Behind-the-name: Why is Sabi called Sabi?

What’s in a name? Well… in the case of Sabi quite a lot!

As it says on our site, Sabi is a Japanese cultural aesthetic inspired by the notion of life’s transitory and evanescent nature. Deliberate or cultivated simplicity in daily living. Artistic representation that strives toward refined understatement.

Actually, the full name of the Japanese cultural aesthetic is Wabi-Sabi. According to Wikipedia, the words Wabi and Sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; Sabi meant “chill”, “lean” or “withered”. Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations.

Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction, which add uniqueness and elegance to the object.

Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age, when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear, or in any visible repairs.

In total, the term Wabi-Sabi has come to describe an aesthetic defined as beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.”

Where did it come from? Apparently, the concept dates back to the 16th century, to founder of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, Sen no Rikyu. A time of warfare in Japan, his movement toward indigenous Japanese art was a backlash against the influence of more ornate Chinese treasures.

The Wabi-Sabi concept applies most commonly to objects. From the Wabi-Sabi perspective, when an object is left to age naturally, it becomes more beautiful. A Nextavenue article offers the following example: Rust and corrosion are a good thing. Often described as “Japanese rustic,” the aesthetic is a reaction to the sleek and the slick, the polished and the impersonal.

An artistic aesthetic, the concept has been manifest in all sorts of fields, like architecture and fashion.

Although the concept is an aesthetic one, and is generally applied to “stuff” Wabi-Sabi is not just about exteriors. The aesthetic embodies a philosophy about the human experience, and aging in particular.

Which leads us to why we decided to call Sabi, Sabi. We too see beauty and depth in things old and imperfect, and in people as they age and show their organic natures. We draw design inspiration from this idea that life is transitory or impermanent, and from the life changes that come with age. This is why it’s essential to value every moment – even just the little moments in the day; for instance, those moments in the day when you take your pills. These little moments deserve to be cherished.

As Nextavenue recommends, “evoke the spirit of Wabi-Sabi the next time you look in the mirror and bemoan your wrinkles. Sen No Rikyu would say these imperfections make you what you are: perfect.”

If you’re interested to learn more about the concept of Wabi-Sabi, watch this BBC 4 documentary with Marcel Theroux.

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