Wabi-sabi,” which is two words combined, represents in abbreviated form an elusive concept that is key to the understanding of traditional Japanese aesthetics. Indeed, rather than a single concept, it is a cluster of ideas that permeate artistic practice in Japan, or at least did so in the past. Now, as the titles of these books indicate, it is gaining currency abroad.

The portmanteau term unites two separate but related notions: wabi means what is desolate or wretched, while sabi suggests the lonesome or melancholy. Taken together, they evoke an autumnal or even wintry feeling, an unaffected rusticity, a sense of which was keenly developed by the tea ceremony master, Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) and came to inform other arts as well.

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