Yesterday, Chelsea and I hungout with two new Japanese friends. They showed us all around the city of Kyoto, including a visit to a zen garden and traditional tea house. It is here where I began to understand “wabi-sabi,” an important part of Zen and Japanese culture.
It is a concept not easily translatable to English – one of those ideas that our language just doesn’t have the vocabulary to describe. Even more difficult was it for my new friend Itaro to explain to me, as English is his second language. So instead, he showed me.
As we sat there drinking tea on our tatami mats, looking out to the quiet green surrounding the tea house and enjoying the simplicity of the moment, he said, “This is wabi-sabi.” I thought about earlier that morning, when Chelsea (who has been living in Japan for almost a year), amidst a museum filled with intricately decorated porcelain, noticed and pointed out the one large vase with imperfect shape and color and called it wabi-sabi. Later, we wandered through an ancient shrine surrounded by overgrown forest, and Itaro told me once again, “This is wabi-sabi.” In the evening, I squealed in excitement as he led me through the quiet narrow back-alleys of Kyoto, lined with simple wooden buildings and lit only by a few torn paper lanterns. Our feet tread across streets weathered with age, and again, “This is wabi-sabi.”
I don’t have a full grasp of the concept yet, but I am learning. At this point, I understand wabi-sabi to be an appreciation for the raw beauty in imperfection and authenticity. The more I allow this idea of wabi-sabi to seep into my understanding, the more appreciation I have for the Japanese culture.
I see what I believe to be wabi sabi in the hearts of the people here. I couldn’t be more thankful for the new friendships that have blossomed so far on this trip, and I credit the genuine humility of the people that I’ve met. It is refreshing to experience life with authentic people. I have felt so honored to hear these friends’ life stories, to know about their past hurts, their current struggles, and their future dreams. And what a gift it has been to myself as well, for as one person opens a door of vulnerability in a relationship, so much easier it is for the other person to walk through that door and be vulnerable themselves. And isn’t that the design that God has intended for our earthly relationships?
Japan has been encouraging me to embrace my own brokenness and to see imperfection as beautiful. Vulnerability is difficult, especially the deeper we delve into our pasts, fears, and hurts. But with honesty and openness and dependence on God’s grace comes relief and healing. There is beauty in accepting the imperfection, and as I look to the opportunities I have in my life to walk honestly through seasons of healing or pain alongside people that I love, I think, “This is wabi-sabi.”
I believe in God's grace through Jesus. I love to learn, in a variety of contexts - reading God's Word, interacting with people from diverse backgrounds around the world, and as a student of Linguistics and Foreign Languages at Western Washington University. Pages of My Passport is dedicated to sharing this journey of learning through written and visual content.