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Principles of Japanese Aesthetic

: Simplicity or elimination of clutter. Things are expressed in a plain, simple, natural

manner. Reminds us to think not in terms of decoration but in terms of clarity, a kind of clarity
that may be achieved through omission or exclusion of the non-essential.
: Asymmetry or irregularity. The idea of controlling balance in a composition via
irregularity and asymmetry is a central tenet of the Zen aesthetic. The enso ("Zen circle") in
brush painting, for example, is often drawn as an incomplete circle, symbolizing the imperfection
that is part of existence. In graphic design too asymmetrical balance is a dynamic, beautiful
thing. Try looking for (or creating) beauty in balanced asymmetry. Nature itself is full of beauty
and harmonious relationships that are asymmetrical yet balanced. This is a dynamic beauty that
attracts and engages.
: Beautiful by being understated, or by being precisely what it was meant to be and not
elaborated upon. Direct and simple way, without being flashy. Elegant simplicity, articulate
brevity. The term is sometimes used today to describe something cool but beautifully minimalist,
including technology and some consumer products. (Shibui literally means bitter tasting).
: Naturalness. Absence of pretense or artificiality, full creative intent unforced. Ironically,
the spontaneous nature of the Japanese garden that the viewer perceives is not accidental. This
is a reminder that design is not an accident, even when we are trying to create a natural-feeling
environment. It is not a raw nature as such but one with more purpose and intention.
: Profundity or suggestion rather than revelation. A Japanese garden, for example, can be
said to be a collection of subtleties and symbolic elements. Photographers and designers can
surely think of many ways to visually imply more by not showing the whole, that is, showing more
by showing less.
: Freedom from habit or formula. Escape from daily routine or the ordinary. Unworldly.
Transcending the conventional. This principles describes the feeling of surprise and a bit of
amazement when one realizes they can have freedom from the conventional. Professor Tierney
says that the Japanese garden itself, "...made with the raw materials of nature and its success in
revealing the essence of natural things to us is an ultimate surprise. Many surprises await at
almost every turn in a Japanese Garden."
: Tranquility or an energized calm (quite), stillness, solitude. This is related to the feeling
you may have when in a Japanese garden. The opposite feeling to one expressed by seijaku
would be noise and disturbance. How might we bring a feeling of "active calm" and stillness to
ephemeral designs outside the Zen arts?
: Harmony, peace, balance. Wa is the character that designates something as Japanese or
Japanese-made such as in washoku (food), washitsu (room style), wafuku (traditional clothes),
wagasa (traditional umbrella), and so on. The idea of harmony and balance is fundamental to
Japanese culture and human relationships. Harmony is a key aspect of design sensibilities in
Japan. Aesthetically, wa is fundamental to all good design.
: Empty, spatial void, interval of space or time. The concept of ma can be found in many of
the Zen arts, including traditional gardens and ikebana, Noh theater, and so on. Ma does not just
mean the kind of empty space that is background; the emptiness is often arranged to be a focal

point. Ma allows for an energy or sense of movement within a design. Ma may show itself in
traditional music in the form of silence or pauses. In ikebana the idea of emptiness allows for
each flower to breathe and also reveals the contrasts and the balance found in the asymmetrical
: Appreciation of the beauty found in that portion that is implied, unstated, or
unexpressed in a work of art. An idea close to the modern idea of less is more. Its focus is on
what was left out. Related to the Zen ideal of ku (emptiness) and mu (nothingness). You can see
the idea expressed in Zen gardens that feature large sections of raked sand or gravel and in ink
paintings that leave large sections of the paper untouched. The term literally means "beauty of
extra white." Although the term dates back centuries, you still hear it today.