The Suitcase Lady


November 29, 2011, 9:38 pm

No English phrase exists for the Japanese concept of wabi sabi. My favorite explanation is found in a children’s book by Mark Reibstein. This lovely book, entitled Wabi Sabi, is about an unassuming brown cat of that name.

When the cat asks her mistress and various animals the meaning of her name, they all reply,”That’s hard to explain.” Finally, a wise old monkey in a pine grove prepares tea for her and proclaims,”simple things are beautiful.” As Wabi Sabi sees her reflection in the tea bowl, she realizes that, although plain, she is beautiful as well.

I recently read Wabi Sabi to a group of fifty first and second graders and, to my delight, many of them grasped the idea.

Researching further, I came upon this description:

“Wabi sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay and death….it is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered.”

Wabi sabi had its origins in ancient China, entering Japanese culture with Zen masters. In particular, Sen no Rikyu of Kyoto built a teahouse with a door so low that even an emperor would have to bow down to gain entrance.

Wabi stems from the root wa which refers to harmony, peace and balance. A wabi person is one who is content with little and in tune with nature. Sabi pertains to the temporal nature of all things, the fleeting nature of beauty.

Wabi sabi can be found in weathered wood, the patina of old silver, rust, shadows and fallen leaves.

November is a wabi sabi time of year. The technicolor lushness of summer flowers and fall leaves has fled, yet the first glittering blanket of new snow has not yet transformed the landscape.

Bare umber seed heads
Silhouettes on leaden skies
Finches are busy.

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