shibui / shibusa

I’ve traveled through many cultures looking at how people express their creativity, and for me, there’s no aesthetic philosophy more refined than the Japanese approach.

What blows me away is how evident beauty is in Japanese culture.  Aesthetic values in Japan are an integral part of daily life, shaped by a set of ancient ideals.  The concepts are profoundly specific, and what amazes me most is that they have no direct translation in other cultures.

To describe each of them for you here would require a lot more reading than you probably have time for, but in a nutshell, they include terms like wabi (transient and stark beauty), sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging), yūgen (profound grace and subtlety), shibui (beauty with inner implications) and other poetic values that express the cycle of life as a dynamic whole.

My favorite of all of these interconnected concepts is shibui (adj) or shibusa (noun).  Like other Japanese aesthetic ideas, such as wabi-sabi and iki, shibui can apply to a wide variety of subjects, not just art, design or nature.  The seven elements of shibusa are simplicity, implicity, modesty, silence, naturalness, everydayness, and imperfection.  It’s described as a “beauty that makes an artist of the viewer,” and a “refinement underlying commonplace appearances.”

What these concepts all have in common is a holistic and genuine appreciation for “what is,” cultivated and stated in a way that highlights authenticity and illustrates the feelings you get from them.  That, in and of itself, is something I find amazingly beautiful.


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