The Aesthetics of Japan

Japan is a country like nowhere else on earth, a country of extremes: traditional and modern, simple and complex, conservative and wild. The beauty of Japan is astonishing. How they can do it? How can I show a glimpse of Japan without going through the city-by-city travel stories? A good start would be by defining the principles of beauty or the aesthetics of Japan.

“The more people explore the world, the more they realize in every country there’s a different aesthetic. Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.” – Helena Christensen

What are the aesthetics of Japan?

The Japanese aesthetic is a set of ancient ideals that include wabi (transient and stark beauty), sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging), and yūgen (profound grace and subtlety). Wikipedia


Wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept defining the beauty of things as “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”, such as the cherry blossoms transience.

“If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.” – Andrew Juniper

Japanese Garden in Fall, Kyoto

Japanese Garden in Fall, Kyoto

Ryōan-ji Zen garden

Ryōan-ji Zen garden


Miyabi is elegance, refinement – the opposite of vulgar.

Kinkaku-ji temple, Kyoto

Kinkaku-ji temple, Kyoto

Girl in kimono

Girl in kimono – Shichi-Go-San “Seven-Five-Three” festival celebrating the growth and well-being of young children (Tokyo)


Shibui represents the aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty.

“Beauty with inner implications” – Sōetsu Yanagi

Shoji lantern

Shoji lantern


Iki is the ideal of aesthetic in Japan: not too complicated, but sophisticated, spontaneous, original.

Iki may signify a personal trait, or artificial phenomena exhibiting human will or consciousness. Wikipedia

Imperial Palace grounds - Tokyo

Imperial Palace grounds – Tokyo

Chōwaden Reception Hall

Imperial Palace Tokyo, Chōwaden Reception Hall


Jo-ha- kyū (modulation and movement) means that all actions should begin slowly, speed up, and then end swiftly. The tea ceremony, the martial art of Kendo and the traditional Japanese theatre are examples of Jo-ha- kyū.

Jidai Matsuri festival Kyoto

Jidai Matsuri festival Kyoto


Yūgen is “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe … and the sad beauty of human suffering.” – Zeami Motokiyo

Iriomote Jima beach, Okinawa

Iriomote Jima beach, Okinawa


Geidō encompasses the traditional Japanese arts: Noh (theater), Shodo (calligraphy), Sadō (tea ceremony), Yakimono ( pottery).

Daruma painting

Daruma painting, Kyoto


Ensō means circle: enlightenment, strength, elegance.

Stepping stones - Heian Temple, Kyoto

Stepping stones – Heian Temple, Kyoto


Kawaii means cute! And cuteness is definitely part of the Japanese culture.

Cute dog


Maidreamin - maid cafe, Tokyo

Maid cafe – Tokyo, Akihabara


Kaiseki is the art of artistically arranging dishes.

Sashimi arrangement

Sashimi arrangement

Seafood Japan

Beauty in simplicity

“Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless? To long for the moon while looking on the rain, to lower the blinds and be unaware of the passing of the spring – these are even more deeply moving. Branches about to blossom or gardens strewn with flowers are worthier of our admiration.” – Yoshida Kenko

Mount Fuji

Mount Fuji

Related Links