The Aesthetic of Wabi: Tea Ceremony

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The Aesthetic of Wabi-Sabi is internationally recognized. This concept is explained in connection with the worldview of Japanese people, indeterminate beauty, and Buddhist impermanence. Common features of Wabi-Sabi include a kind of fundamental loneliness, simplicity and shunning of luster. Embodiment of this aesthetic quality is the ultimate aim of Japanese traditional arts, especially Tea Ceremony and Haiku.

*Wabi-Tea of Rikyu

Juko Murata (d. 1502) is said to be the founder of Wabi-Tea. Juko learned Tea Ceremony from Noami, and Zen through his association with Ikkyusojun of Daitokuji Temple. While standard Tea Ceremony was performed in luxurious rooms using expensive Tang tableware, Wabi-Tea, also known as Soan Tea, used humble rooms and utensils to bring out the spirituality of Tea Ceremony. Rikyu deepened and refined Wabi-Tea, and thereby the concept of Wabi and its aesthetic spread widely with the development of Tea Ceremony.

Rikyu generalized the object of Wabi to include not only the tea utensils but also the structure of the tea room and the methodology of tea ceremony, ultimately to include the entire form of Tea Ceremony. Also, while at the time most of the tea utensils were imported from China and the Korean Peninsula, Rikyu newly introduced utensils such as earthenware teacups, and selected ink wash paintings that represent the Zen spirituality of quiet simplicity and subdued refinement. Rikyu, after 100 years since Juko, perfected Wabi-Tea by stripping off every inessential element to the extreme point of tenseness. Aesthetic taste for refined simplicity was developed.

“Taian”, the small tea room of only two tatami mats designed by Rikyu, is the ultimate tea room with the bare essentials. Its entrance is so tiny that one must crouch in order to get in. Warriors must disarm their swords in order to enter. Once inside the tea room, there is no difference of class, and everyone becomes equal inside the microcosm of the tea room. The abolishment of social status in the tea room may have evoked the feeling of transitoriness, reflecting the Era of Warring States where one’s status could change drastically at any time.

The sense of transitoriness is integral to Sabi, and is one of the characteristic features of Japanese Aesthetic.


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