MattAndJojang's Blog

God. Life. Spirituality.

Posts Tagged ‘Japan

Wabi-Sabi: The Art Of Imperfection

with 2 comments

Tea Bowl at the Tokyo National Museum

Tea Bowl at the Tokyo National Museum

The Japanese tradition of wabi-sabi offers an inspiring new way to look at your home, and your whole life.

According to Japanese legend, a young man named Sen no Rikyu sought to learn the elaborate set of customs known as the Way of Tea. He went to tea-master Takeeno Joo, who tested the younger man by asking him to tend the garden. Rikyu cleaned up debris and raked the ground until it was perfect, then scrutinized the immaculate garden. Before presenting his work to the master, he shook a cherry tree, causing a few flowers to spill randomly onto the ground.

To this day, the Japanese revere Rikyu as one who understood to his very core a deep cultural thread known as wabi-sabi. Emerging in the 15th century as a reaction to the prevailing aesthetic of lavishness, ornamentation, and rich materials, wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all. In Japan, the concept is now so deeply ingrained that it’s difficult to explain to Westerners; no direct translation exists.

Broadly, wabi-sabi is everything that today’s sleek, mass-produced, technology-saturated culture isn’t. It’s flea markets, not shopping malls; aged wood, not swank floor coverings; one single morning glory, not a dozen red roses. Wabi-sabi understands the tender, raw beauty of a gray December landscape and the aching elegance of an abandoned building or shed. It celebrates cracks and crevices and rot and all the other marks that time and weather and use leave behind. To discover wabi-sabi is to see the singular beauty in something that may first look decrepit and ugly.

Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

Bringing wabi-sabi into your life doesn’t require money, training, or special skills. It takes a mind quiet enough to appreciate muted beauty, courage not to fear bareness, willingness to accept things as they are—without ornamentation. It depends on the ability to slow down, to shift the balance from doing to being, to appreciating rather than perfecting.

You might ignite your appreciation of wabi-sabi with a single item from the back of a closet: a chipped vase, a faded piece of cloth. Look deeply for the minute details that give it character; explore it with your hands. You don’t have to understand why you’re drawn to it, but you do have to accept it as it is.

Rough textures, minimally processed goods, natural materials, and subtle hues are all wabi-sabi. Consider the musty-oily scene that lingers around an ancient wooden bowl, the mystery behind a tarnished goblet. This patina draws us with a power that the shine of the new doesn’t possess. Our universal longing for wisdom, for genuineness, for shared history manifests in these things.

There’s no right or wrong to creating a wabi-sabi home. It can be as simple as using an old bowl as a receptacle for the day’s mail, letting the paint on an old chair chip, or encouraging the garden to go to seed. Whatever it is, it can’t be bought. Wabi-sabi is a state of mind, a way of being. It’s the subtle art of being at peace with yourself and your surroundings.

–Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Written by MattAndJojang

May 25, 2016 at 10:09 am

Chado (The Way of Tea)

with 4 comments

Matt participating at a Japanese Tea Ceremony

When you sit in a café, with a lot of music in the background and a lot of projects in your head, you’re not really drinking your coffee or your tea. You’re drinking your projects, you’re drinking your worries. You are not real, and the coffee is not real either.

Your coffee can only reveal itself to you as a reality when you go back to your self and produce your true presence, freeing yourself from the past, the future, and from your worries. When you are real, the tea also becomes real and the encounter between you and the tea is real. This is genuine tea drinking.

~Thich Nhat Hahn

Written by MattAndJojang

November 25, 2011 at 8:02 pm

Disaster Stirs Japanese Believer’s Confidence In God’s Power

leave a comment »

Thousands of the little wooden prayer tablets rattle softly in the cold, spring breeze, a symphony of soft clattering that drifts out from the Shinto shrine.

Images and characters burned on one side of the tablet symbolize hope. On the other side, carefully handwritten prayers and wishes are written to the deities of the Meiji Jingu Shrine.

Not surprisingly, the “prayer wall” focuses on Japan’s triple disaster — a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, a tsunami and nuclear crisis.

“My sister is missing. Please bring her back.”

“Prayers for the victims.”

“These disasters will not destroy us. Be strong.”

One young Japanese woman spends 15-minutes writing her request in perfect characters. She stuffs her prayer, “… protect my family from nuclear radiation …,” written on paper in a waist-high box. Don’t even try to count these prayer requests — people just keep stuffing whether there is room or not.

“I do not normally come here to pray,” the young woman explains, “but given the disasters, I am not sure what else to do.”

Proud of their secular society, most Japanese are not religious. But in a time of crisis, International Mission Board missionary Gary Fujino says they tend to fall back on an old Japanese expression, “The god that you depend on in times of crisis.”

“What that means is when things are bad, you will go to the temple and shrine because nothing you’ve tried thus far worked,” Fujino explains. He notes that, once the crisis is over, no one goes back to temple or shrine.

Thousands of prayer tablets hung in one-day testify that the crisis in Japan continues to grow and people are trying to find ways to cope. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear site has been rated a five on a seven-point international scale for atomic incidents, just two levels lower than the Ukraine’s 1986 Chernobyl disaster. The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog warns that stabilizing the plant is a race against time. In Japan’s disaster-ravaged northeast, 6,405 people are confirmed dead and about 10,200 are listed missing.

While most Westerners often are preoccupied with causes of disaster — the questions of why God would allow an earthquake, for example — Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Shinto focus on behavior in reaction to tragedy. It is very important in Japanese life to react in a positive way, to be persistent and to clean up in the face of adversity.

Fujino says it’s always been like this. His elderly Japanese neighbor assures him this is just like World War II — a time when the nation pulled together and persevered. The neighbor has no doubts that Japan will rebuild and make it on their own.

“They really believe that in themselves they have what they need, which makes it very difficult to share the Gospel” Fujino says. “What we need is for people to be shaken and realize that you need something outside of yourself — God.”

The 1995 Kobe earthquake did just that for Yoko Dorsey. She lost everything. In Japan, she explains, people work for material things. They are defined by what they own. So when it is lost, you lose everything — worth, pride and value.

The 60-year-old member of Tokyo Baptist Church says at the time, she thought she could depend on herself, just as many Japanese feel today.

“I learned in the Kobe earthquake that I needed God. I learned that I don’t need material things. My heart opened up,” she says. “I think God saved me back then because he wants to use me now.”

Dorsey took in a single mother and her daughter whose other family members remain missing. As people evacuate from the disaster zone to Tokyo, she plans to bring even more to live with her.

She explains that the Japanese government will take care of things and rebuild houses in a few months, but she can do something even bigger — introduce people to the God who can rebuild their lives.

“I have a really strong God,” she says. “I want those people in the disaster to know my God’s strength and power.”

Dorsey cannot make it to the disaster zone yet because of radiation fears, not to mention the lack of government permits, but she’s doing what she can in Tokyo. From her church just a few miles from the Shinto shrine, she prays for her country…

~ Susie Rain

Written by MattAndJojang

March 30, 2011 at 11:07 am