わびさび【Wabi and Sabi】

The Japanese are clever and intelligent people and their way of thinking is varied and suitable to their culture. In fact, wabi meant, many years ago, to become weak and weary. This meaning came from the word wabu. Wabishi, the adjective, meant, to be lonely and without comfort. In those days, the physical and mental pain of the people was widespread and constant. Every day, people felt lonely and comfortless and could do little to help themselves.

日本人は知性溢れる優れた民族ですから、その考え方はもっと多様でしょうし、日本文化に根ざしたものであるはずです。 わびは「わぶ」という言葉に語源を持ち、つらくて精も根も尽き果てたという意味で使われていました。形容詞の「わびしい」は、孤独で、すがるもののない状態を指しました。当時の人々の生活は孤独感にさいなまれ、助けてくれるものもなく、逃れることのできない精神的、肉体的な苦痛に満ちていたのです。

Then, in the Kamakura Era (1185 – 1333) and in the Muromachi Era (1336 – 1573), literary people tried to change the bad feelings of wabi into good ideas of life. Wabi was developed into the positive thought that poverty, loneliness and the absence of beauty led to freedom from material and emotional worries. This idea became the central concept of the tea ceremony and of certain philosophical works. These new thoughts were especially accepted by tea ceremony masters, such as Murata Shuko (1422 – 1502), Takeno Joo (1504 – 1555) and Sen no Rikyu (1522 – 1591). They pointed out the richness to be found in poverty and the beauty to be found in simple things.


Of course other people are able to understand the same feelings and enjoy them. My own family was very poor and we found that some of the experiences we had, and the foods we ate, were really wonderful. I am sorry other people were prevented by their excess money from having the same kinds of pleasures. Even today, I feel nostalgia for the “Good Old Days.” Let’s keep open minds about such cultural thoughts.Basic ideas may vary a little, from culture to culture, but people are really very much the same all over the world.


Sabi helps us be observant of the beauty in age. Antiques are beautiful to us, partly because their age gives them a certain patina, or glow, that is missing in new things. Antiques are treasured in all countries of the world. Family relics and household goods stay in families for years and gain respect and value as time goes by. The ideas of the appreciation of the loveliness of age must be universal. In addition, of course, just as we appreciate the beauty of old things, we can also value the beauty of an old person, who has experienced life, with its joys and troubles.


The old Japanese masters created new meanings for painful feelings all people experienced, but found it hard to remedy. These new values added something warm and comforting to the the trials that afflicted all Japanese in the old days. Today, many people have forgotten the old meanings of wabi and sabi. Many people don’t understand the new meanings of these words either. It might be difficult to find synonyms in other languages for wabi and sabi, but the feelings can be described in very lovely terms.


We think of the softness of the skin of old people as a mark of those who have experienced the trials of life. Who made my old netsuke, and how much time did he or she take to carve it? Did the artist love the work? I love it!


I often used to go into the woods to get away from the modern world and experience peace in the quiet wilderness. I would seek out lonely rocks and rushing mountain streams where the winds that blew recognized no human. In places like these, I knew for certain that I was nothing! At the same time I saw the beauty of nature and of life itself. Wabi and sabi do exist. I have experienced them. They are associated with Buddhist thought, but educated people all over the world understand them, too!


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