Wabi-sabi is an aesthetic that was established by the monk Sen-no Rikkyu (1521-1591), who is largely responsible for the form of the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.
Often called untranslatable, some of the confusion comes from treating wabi-sabi as one word when it is two – with different meanings. Wabi refers to a simple life, albeit one made so by choice, and with a strong link to nature. It is the life of a Zen monk, or the philosophy espoused in Walden Wood by Henry David Thoreau. Sabi refers to the beauty of imperfection caused by time passing. So the wrinkled skin of old age has beauty, as does a well-worn tea cup or a well-thumbed book.
The tea ceremony is built around wabi-sabi, with every repetitive gesture being significant – as are details such as how the flowers are displayed. The point is to find happiness in the simple act of making tea. The words have been joined together partly because of their similar sound, but together they have added meaning. A wabi-sabi home is simple, but in a very human way, with every item being of beauty or significance.
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