Wabi and Sabi (わび・さび)
Wabi and sabi are sense of beauty in Japan. In general, it refers to a simplicity and serenity. Originally, wabi and sabi were two different concepts.
Wabi (the beauty to be found in poverty and simplicity)
The meaning 'wabi,' the noun form of the verb 'wabu,' is better understood from its adjective form 'wabishii' (wretched); that is, it means 'an inferior state as opposite to splendor.'
Then it means a 'humble like state' or a 'simple look' now.
In the extreme, it may mean a 'poor look' or 'poverty.'
Originally it was not a good concept, however, by an influence of the Zen sect and so on, it was regarded favorably and taken as a sense of beauty.
It is said that there have been descriptions concerning wabi since the ancient days of the Manyoshu (Ten Thousand Poems), but the term 'wabi' as a conceptual noun representing a sense of beauty first appeared in "Nanporoku," the tea book during the Edo period; before above, the expression 'soso' (coarse) was used in close meaning, however, it is difficult to say that they are necessarily synonymous since SEN no Rikyu disliked 'soso.'
The top is rough, and the bottom is conscientious' (Even if the surface is a disaster, the inside should be in a polite way) (YAMANOUE no Soji ki (book of secrets written by YAMANOUE no Soji, best pupil of SEN no Rikyu, a great tea master)).
To stretch a point, it becomes a concept that 'quality is high although price is not.'
In the tea ceremony, it is not only the coarseness in 'wabi,' but also excellent quality (aesthetics) is requested.
During this age, the term 'wabi' appeared as the idiom 'wabisuki.'
This does not mean 'wabicha' (literally, "poverty tea style," known as the tea ceremony). A man of wabicha is in other words 'a person who doesn't have even one thing, except the preparation, a product, and high achievement' (YAMANOUE no Soji ki).
That means a 'poor man of tea.'
When it became the time of SEN no Sotan, the character of 'wabi' has come to express a person with not even one possession. An evaluation of 'wabi' is quoted here in Soji ki. As it is said 'Soeki's secrets are kohita, taketa, wabita (subtle taste), ureta (sorrow), toketa, hanayakani (floridly), monoshiri (knowledgeable), sakusha (author), hanagurumani (flower car), and tsuyoku (powerful); and those who mastered in these ten secrets are taken as qualified, but five of them are not for the beginners,' 'wabita' was only one of the numerous key words used in tea ceremony; it is not a stage at which a beginner should aim, rather, it was assumed a stage that was able to be aimed at for the first time with the tea worn to the learning body in general. At this time, wabi has not yet been recognized as a pronoun for tea ceremony. However, because Soji was evaluating 'wabisuki,' it was evaluated that men of wabi tea were familiar with tea, and that before long 'wabi' was quietly brewed as a prop that supports the spirit of the tea ceremony.
Although wabi was made a theory in tea ceremony, the term 'wabicha' first appeared during the Edo period. Especially during the Muromachi period, contrary to the trend of respecting expensive 'karamono' (things imported from China), Juko MURATA arranged a tea ceremony with coarser and more ordinary tools, at the same time, it became popular among the merchant class of Sakai City which was represented by Shoo TAKENO and SEN no Rikyu. Since there is no literary record of how they mentioned about 'wabi,' we can only infer from the items they liked about the wabi style formed at that time. Tearooms were reinforced fast with an atmosphere of wabi; covered walls were replaced with earthen walls showing straw as to follow how a private house looked like, the tokonoma (special alcove for display of art objects) of approximately 1.8 meters wide became diminished to 1.5 meters or 1.2 meters and painted flooring frame also became raw wood with knots. Shoo liked Bizen ware and Shigaraki ware, and Rikyu created Rakujawan (Raku teacup). They discovered new beauty in daily pottery tried to incorporate it into the tea ceremony and their attitudes were also along the same line with the thought of 'mingei' (folkcraft) started later by Muneyoshi YANAGI.
During the Edo period, the fundamental sense of beauty of tea ceremony became established and even apocryphal books emerged such as "Shoo Wabi no Bun" (Shoo essay on wabi) defining wabi as 'honestly and prudence,' and "Nanporoku" which described wabi as 'Buddha's world of purity.'
Moreover, in the Taisho period and the Showa period items and utensils used in the tea ceremony were evaluated as art work and tea spread and became a word associated with showing the beauty of form and shape. It was frequently used when Muneyoshi YANAGI, Shinichi HISAMATSU and so on, praised the beauty of Korean Tea Bowls. As a result, it was established to represent Japan's sense of beauty.
In "The Book of Tea" by Tenshin OKAKURA, the expression of "imperfect" was often used to represent wabi, and it was made known to the world through it.
Sabi is the noun form of the verb 'sabu,' and originally means the deteriorated state over the passage of time (secular distortion). A substitute Chinese character '寂' (sabi) was then attached that means a tranquil state without people. Similarly, for 'rust' that appears on the surface of metal, the Chinese character '錆' (sabi) was applied. It was quoted as being similar to the beauty of patina (green corrosion) in English, and the atmosphere that green corrosion and so on creates is expressed as patina.
Originally it was not a good concept, however, in "Tsurezuregusa" (Essays in Idleness), there was a description thought to deeply appreciate a book that became old and it has been verified that around this time the meaning of discovering the beauty of an antiquated state arose. During the Muromachi period, it became treasured as important especially in the world of haikai (seventeen-syllable verse) and was even incorporated into the Noh music, and so on, and was systematized into theory. In haiku since Basho MATSUO, it became the central sense of beauty, however, seldom did Matsuo himself talk or write directly about the elegant simplicity of sabi.
The elegant simplicity of sabi in haikai is a common characteristic especially among old things and elderly persons and according to Torahiko TERADA, it oozes out from the inside of something old and is a beauty that doesn't relate to the exterior, and so on. A typical example is a stone on which moss grows. Stones that no one moves grows moss on the surface and become green in the climate in Japan. Japanese people used it to resemble thing coming out from the inside of the stone.
Because it is an attitude of seeking beauty from an antiquated state, it is deeply related to antiquarianism (taste for collecting items). For instance, while there are different features seen in British antiques, and so on, there are also some things in common. While the elegant simplicity of sabi places more emphasis on the action of nature, antiques in the West emphasize the historical respects.