Wabi sabi

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What is it?

Sabi originally meant chill, lean or withered. Wabi meant the misery of living alone.
time the term has evolved to represent an aesthetic appreciation of the passage of time and its effect. It refers to things that tarnish, rust, decay and age.

s it a positive thing?

Yes and no. You would not call your business wabi sabi. That would be like naming your martial arts class 'Deterioration Tai Chi'.


Wabi sabi embraces the melancholy as well as the upbeat aspects of life. Your favourite Uncle has died and you smile at their memory; happiness and love tinged with regret.
An old pair of shoes look broken down and useless but you enjoy their comfort despite their fading functionality.
A vase has a crack in it and can no longer hold water but you cannot bear to throw it out. An old bucket in your garden has rusted in the rain and has a hole in the side.

Nature predominates

Eventually nature has the final say. Everything rots, deteriorates and dies. Wabi sabi appreciation is the acceptance of this process instead of seeking to preserve or halt the inevitable decline.

Wabi sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete.

(Leonard Koren) 


You cannot create wabi sabi. It is not a fashion or a style. By its very nature it refers to processes that occur naturally as things are used, wear out and eventually break down.
As with 'Zen' the term wabi sabi has been adopted in modern UK culture to mean something Asian and exotic.


Common wabi sabi qualities:

  1. One of a kind

  2. Variable

  3. Relative

  4. There is no progress

  5. Believes in the fundamental uncontrollability of nature

  6. Organic

  7. Soft, vague

  8. Natural process

  9. Crude

  10. Degradation and attrition

  11. Corrosion

  12. Function and utility not so important

  13. Dark and dim

  14. Irregular

  15. Intimate

  16. Unpretentious

  17. Earthy

  18. Murky

  19. Simple

  20. Get rid of all that is unnecessary

  21. Beauty can be coaxed out of ugliness

  22. Focus on the intrinsic

  23. Humility

  24. Earthy

Recommended reading

Leonard Koren has written two excellent books - Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers and Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts.
He examines Zen,
tea ceremony, aesthetics and design in an attempt to unravel a deeper root significance. We highly recommend that you purchase the books.
Another good book is Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence
by Andrew Juniper.

Dying cricket
how full of
life, his song.


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Page created 2 March 1995
Last updated 04 May 2023