Sunday 4 December 2022

What is Shibui?

First I would like to explain that one Japanese word usually implies various kinds of meanings and therefore they describe different Japanese words.  I assume this is the case with English words.  I would like to mention the various meanings of this word “Shibui” here, as follows:—
1.    Mouth-puckering
Bitter (tea)
Sour persimmon
Rough wine

2.    Glum, sour, sullen
Look glum (blue)
Frown at/on
Pull a wry face

3.    Quiet and simple
Sober, austere
Be tight, stingy, tight-fisted:
(Don’t wait for Gillian to buy a drink — she too tight-fisted)
Be a miser
(On environmental spending, the president is a miser)

4.    Tasteful
Shibui – a sense of beauty:this category fits “Wabi-Sabi”.
In traditional Japanese aesthetics, Wabi-Sabi is world view acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of appreciating beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete” in nature.  It is prevalent throughout all forms of Japanese art.

Wabi-Sabi is a composite of two interrelated aesthetic concepts.  Wabi may be translated as “subdued, austere beauty”, while Sabi means “rustic patina”.
Characteristics of Wabi-Sabi aesthetics and principles include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and the appreciation of both natural objects and the forces of nature.

Zen Garden of Ryoanji in Kyoto is an good example of the Wabi-Sabi arts. The clay wall, which is stained by age with subtle brown and orange tones, reflects Sabi principles, with the rock garden reflecting Wabi principles.

Zen Garden of Ryoanji in Kyoto


I would like to emphasize the last “Shibui” meaning. This directly
connects Japanese aesthetic with the basic sense of beauty of Wabi-Sabi.  I really hope you will be able to visit Japan and taste (or feel) at first hand this essence of Japanese Arts and Culture.

Reiko Uchiyama
Nagoya, Japan

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