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Wabi Sabi a definition and application in design and Bonsai


The basic expression of Wabi Sabi is it´s simple, artless, somewhat rustic and rough appearance, which is often described as primitive in its characteristics as simple, unpretentious and consisting of natural materials.

The term Wabi Sabi is made up of the words Wabi and Sabi, each of which has different meanings.

Wabi stands for the misery of life alone in nature, far from society, expressing a depressed and joyless state of mind and at the same time the inner being that describes a philosophical structure, a way of life and a spiritual path.

Sabi, on the other hand, stands for the shivering, emaciated or withered and refers to the physically tangible, objective aesthetic ideal.

These meanings, initially negative, eventually develop into a possibility to attain spiritual wealth by renouncing unnecessary ostentation through pomp and focusing on modest values.

The aim is to create an impression that deliberately avoids a pronounced, figurative interpretation.

Instead, asymmetry, incompleteness, formlessness and rough simplicity are highly valued.

In complete contrast to the usual refinement, symmetry and flawlessness of the Western ideal of beauty.

A more precise definition and determination of characteristics will be given later in the application in design and bonsai.

Viewed on a metaphysical level, the aesthetics of Wabi Sabi reflects processes occurring in nature, the construction and decay of matter.

It is the temporal reflection of the inner dynamics, the non-temporal structure of NOTHING, as an expression of the process of drawing in and unfolding.

The external form disappears and the inner values emerge.

As an example, we can cite the transformation from young inexperience to old wisdom, from the superficial exterior to the substantial interior, from the material body to the spiritual mind.

The youth turns into an old man, the first appearance becomes reality and the religious leader becomes spiritual support.

For clarification, the images show boundary stones along the way and their changes.


Wabi Sabi – objects are an expression of frozen time and are made from materials that clearly show the effects of weather and human treatment.

They register sun, wind, rain, heat and cold by discoloring, rusting, tarnishing, staining, warping, shrinking and cracking.

Their nicks, scratches, bruises, scrapes, dents, flaking and other forms of wear and tear bear witness to the history of their treatment and abuse.

It is not important what value their materials have, how they were made, or who created the objects.

These aspects are deliberately kept in the background and are intended to remain invisible or anonymous. A signature or other marking is reduced to a minimum.

Their mere existence gives them authority and presence without trying to push themselves into the foreground.

The proximity to the original material and its natural state with its properties and material qualities is still noticeable.

These are expressed in a very subtle way and, through their rough, original surfaces, support a very sensual willingness to accept and ask to be touched.

This justifies the fact that predominantly natural materials such as wood, stone, metal and related raw materials are used.

Tree bark, Pepple stones, Damaststeel waves
Material Choices Wabi Sabi

The application in design and bonsai

An essential component is the Zen philosophy based on Buddhism.

Their integration is expressed by reducing them to the essentials.

Synonyms like

  • Asymmetry,

  • Simplicity,

  • strict sublimity, i.e. reduction to the essential

  • naturalness

  • Subtle depth, space, hidden qualities

  • Respect and awe for nature

  • Freedom from the bondage of the orthodox or common property

  • Quiet

  • Perfection of irregularity

  • colorless muted natural colors such as charcoal gray, greenish ash gray, earth brown

  • Alternation of light and shadow

Color palette Wabi Sabi
Color palette Wabi Sabi

best describe the attributes underlying this design.

"No matter how far you look

Neither flowers nor brightly colored maple leaves

On the shore

Just a thatched hut

In the autumnal twilight"


  • Maintain or enhance the natural structure of wood

  • Using natural preservation methods

  • Observe and allow for wear and tear (patina)

  • Use of organic materials

  • Avoid plastics

  • Make surfaces haptically interesting


  • Enhanced, sensual material appearance that meets our need to stimulate the 12 senses, as described in a previous blog post .

  • stimulating haptics

  • Novel design appearance

  • Human Design

  • Combination of European and Asian aesthetics arouses interest

  • high emotional value

  • Identification with the object

  • Preservation of imperfection, errors and irregularity


cracking green paint with rust
flaking paint

A flaw can become a feature in this repaired bonsai pot who´s perfection was destroyed and repaired to become an example of Wabi Sabi...


We burn it usually, it keeps us warm, but sometimes there is another beauty to be found within..!

Like a stone found in nature is worth nothing, it becomes a precious witness of time and character when put on a presentation stand!

Comparison of Western and Asian design approaches

Comparison of western and asian design approaches in Wabi Sabi
Comparison of European and Asian aesthetics


After examining the topic of Wabi Sabi, we can conclude the following:

  • It can increase the emotional, tactile and visual quality of an object, tree or bonsai as well as things in other areas of our lives if we enhance their irregularity, imperfection and non-standard shape, if we acknowledge their presumed errors and even value them as quality!

  • According to the bonsai master and veteran Walter Pall, we can enhance and accentuate a supposed flaw or increase its visual value.

  • Similar to the birthmark of supermodel Cindy Crawford, whose existence was initially rejected by the industry, but later became an essential feature and sign of character...

  • Unlike Western norms, we find in Asian aesthetics qualities that appeal to the senses.

  • Nobody and nothing is perfect, so it only depends on our own point of view from which we evaluate something.

  • That is why we should be flexible, accept and be in the here and now, because tomorrow will soon be yesterday and time passes by so quickly...

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