Contentment – the one common goal the entire human race revolves around no matter which path they choose to pursue individually. But have they grasped the subtle mystery of nature that lies behind true happiness? The more we sense and accept the ways of nature, the closer we get to our heart’s contentment. “Wabi-sabi” is a Japanese cultural nuance that envelopes such wisdom of appreciating life as it is through an open mind.
What is Wabi-Sabi?
To put it simply as an insight for the contemporary world, Wabi-sabi is essentially the art of discovering and appreciating the beauty of imperfection. It is a profound perception that honours the authenticity of earthy living. As a cultural norm, this unique value is deeply rooted in the Japanese way of life and is rather difficult to express the true meaning in words. As the saying goes, “the true message lies within the unsaid”, the understanding of this notion is quite intuitive. Deeply ingrained in Japanese history since the 16th century, Wabi-sabi reflects in many aspects of Japanese culture such as art, ceremonies, architecture and more interestingly, pottery as well. In this article, we will explore how Japanese pottery encapsulates the wisdom of Wabi-sabi.
Wabi-Sabi Reflected in Japanese Pottery
The art of pottery is considered one of the most highly regarded aspects of Japanese ceramics industry. Japanese pottery also plays an important role in capturing the essence of Wabi-sabi and representing its value to the world. The simplicity of these crafts contains a profound message that uncovers the transient nature of things. Wabi-sabi, the gentle aesthetic that it is, presents itself through the irregular and incomplete shapes of each artifact which has its own character. Just as each living being comes with its own uniqueness, each bowl, plate, or jar is naturally formed with its own bumps, glaze patterns or even cracks revealing the flawed beauty of imperfections of nature.
The Japanese craftsmanship has chosen various techniques of pottery to bring about the spirit of Wabi-sabi. The art of “kintsugi” is a classic example for such a technique, where broken pottery is repaired by re-joining the pieces back together and applying a lacquer mixed with powdered gold, platinum, or silver along the cracks. The end result is a beautifully restored, one-of-a-kind piece of art transforming its own cracks into charming seams of gold gleams. This exemplifies the aspect of Wabi-sabi that celebrates mended flaws, without hiding them, which then become part of one’s unique history and enhance its own beauty.
Wabi-Sabi and Japanese Tea Ceremony
Once performed as a spiritual practice, traditional Japanese tea ceremony claims a close relation with Wabi-sabi and Japanese pottery. The great masters of tea ceremonies such as Murata Jukō and Sen no Rikyū have taken the initiative to embody the norms of Wabi-sabi into the traditional tea ceremony. It was their profound influence which incorporated a simple ambiance and ordinary vessels, including the humble tea bowl known as “Raku”, to this aesthetic ceremony.
Raku Pottery or “Raku-yaki”, introduced by the great master Sen no Rikyū to the Japanese tea ceremony, highlights the true character of “Wabi-sabi” in traditional pottery. These vessels are hand-built instead of using a pottery wheel and are commonly designed as traditional tea bowls called “Chawan”. Each piece is purely created with its own authentic form and characteristics. They are fired at low temperatures and left in the open air to cool down once removed from the hot kiln. Out of this method, comes a slightly porous ware which might even remain unglazed or in other case, decorated with traditional practices called copper glaze, crackle glaze, matte black or wax resist. The intent behind the use of these simple, uneven stoneware in the tea ceremony is to embrace the beauty and perfection within imperfection.
Embracing the Spirit of Wabi-Sabi
It is evident that, for centuries, Wabi-sabi has laid the groundwork for the way of thinking of contemporary Japanese society. Instead of avoiding or hiding one’s imperfections, this concept encourages to accept and honour flaws and hardships. Just as in the art of pottery, Wabi-sabi finds its expression in almost all aspects of the Japanese culture allowing its people to naturally soak in its true spirit. Even as a country challenged by natural hazards on a semi-regular basis, it must be the essence of Wabi-sabi that upholds the spirit of Japan.