What is wabi-sabi?
Things that are beat up, a bit rough, and not quite right – hardly what you would normally associate with Japanese refinement, let alone Zen Buddhism. Nevertheless, wabi-sabi, a philosophy that celebrates imperfect beauty, is as important to Japanese culture as Greek ideals of beauty are to the West.
Wabi-sabi emphasizes craft and process over finished product. The beauty of an object is merely a byproduct of the hard work and craftsmanship required to make it. It’s all about the journey. Or something like that. Wabi-sabi is defined by its very indefinability, and it’s almost impossible to explain exactly what it is. But you kind of know it when you see it. Capiche? Well, it is a bit Zen, after all. In the UK a number of small, craft businesses have integrated the ideas and principles of wabi-sabi into their their work.
Bleinheim Forge are Peckham based bladesmiths who make knives using traditional Japanese techniques. The simple rusticity of their handmade blades stand in stark contrast to the precision tooled perfection of their German and French counterparts.
Andrew Juniper, author of Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence, designs and makes custom furniture out of sustainable bamboo based timber and traditional Japanese tools for clients in London, Paris and New York. Juniper says his products represent the passage of time and have consciousness passing through them.
Meanwhile, JAM Furniture made by Ben Cramp uses reclaimed timber and materials found at sites all over Europe. The signs of wear and tear on these materials are signs of their former life and such imperfections are a huge part of the appeal of the finished product.
Kunika Kataoka strives to make objects that will stand the test of time. Her wabi-sabi cups carry the ‘spirit’ of each person who has used them
What we think
In Europe, wabi-sabi can be seen as an antidote to conspicuous consumption and all things bling, glossy and overtly glamorous. Think bare brick walls in virtually every coffee shop, Nudie’s denim repair service (naturally distressed jeans are very wabi sabi), and the lustrous matte interiors you see in the stores that line Redchurch St. And while some of these products may look a bit tatty and drab they are often as expensive as their bling counterparts. Wabi-sabi taps into our desire to buy things imbued with special meaning.