A personal aesthetic experience to feel with all five senses

After living in Kyoto, Japan for a year to study Chado (the Way of tea) at Urasenke I came back home to Buenos Aires, Argentina. That was exactly four years ago. One of the first talks I was invited to give was about wabi sabi and its relationship with the tea ceremony. Explaining wabi sabi for an Argentinean audience was a challenge. It seemed to me that culturally both countries were as distant as they are on the map.

I read Leonard Koren Wabi sabi for artists. It was a first grasp, a first impression of what wabi sabi could mean for Western culture. Koren wrote that the term is difficult to explain even for the Japanese: they can understand the feeling but find it hard to put it into words. As a tea student it was clear to me: tea and wabi sabi are inseparable. And it´s an aesthetic experience also related to taste and feeling. The discrete and distinguished atmosphere inside a tea room, the passing of time expressed in the ceramics of an old tea bowl are wabi sabi. But also the serene and authentic attitude from the host when preparing and offering a tea, and the same feeling back from the guest.

During the pandemic I noticed how a number of Japanese words started to spread. They became useful vocabulary to go through that difficult moment: ikigai, kintsugi, shinrin-yoku and wabi sabi are some of them. All those terms that also embody a philosophy were re-interpreted in new ways in Western culture. You just have to type any of them in Amazon and you will see that a number of books were written. In some cases misinterpreting the term or even turning it into something new. I will point out just a single problem I find in the aesthetic translation of the term. Wabi sabi is related to rustic, old and used objects. But it does not mean that anything could be wabi sabi: that patina, that feeling should be authentic. Sometimes even unnoticed. A good example of what is not wabi sabi is a shiny broken teabowl all broken and fixed with kintsugi technique and without any aura in the object: just the deliberate aspiration copy-paste those two terms in a piece of ceramic.

If I had to give my own definition of wabi sabi I would say that it is an aesthetic experience, a very personal perception, subtle. But authentic, for sure. Sometimes I find myself trying to read between the lines of modern times and find how wabi sabi relates to our lives in the 21st century. Wabi sabi means to me finding a piece of mind in our daily routines, in our home, in our city. It's a very personal path to walk through, a unique journey that involves all the senses. A moment of quiet contemplation both inside ourselves and around us.

To sum up, it is a way of living. Are there benefits? I could not think of a better way to live life: truthful to feelings and intuition, accepting things as they are. Growing old both physically and spiritually, with grace.

The Writer’s info:

Malena Higashi

Malena lives in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Tea ceremony, reading and writing are at the core of her ikigai.Her nickname, Ekekochi, comes from Ekeko (a doll made of clay that carries bags with grain and food, god of abundance and prosperity in Bolivia and Peru) and the japanese expression "achi kochi" which means to come and go from one place to the other.

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