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haikaiTALKS: a saturday gathering! sabi: rustic patina

haikaiTALKS: Japanese aesthetics - sabi - a saturday gathering_under the banyan tree

host: Kala Ramesh

30th September 2023

Japanese aesthetics: sabi: rustic patina.

Yeah! Another exciting week ahead!!

The term sabi occurs often in the Manyōshū, where it has a connotation of desolateness (sabireru means “to become desolate”), and later on it seems to acquire the meaning of something that has aged well, grown rusty (another word pronounced sabi means “rust”), or has acquired a patina that makes it beautiful.

The importance of sabi for the way of tea was affirmed by the great fifteenth-century tea master Shukō, founder of one of the first schools of tea ceremony. As a distinguished commentator puts it: “The concept sabi carries not only the meaning ‘aged’—in the sense of ‘ripe with experience and insight’ as well as ‘infused with the patina that lends old things their beauty’—but also that of tranquility, aloneness, deep solitude” (Hammitzsch, 46).

The feeling of sabi is also evoked in the haiku of the famous seventeenth-century poet Matsuo Bashō, where its connection with the word sabishi (solitary, lonely) is emphasized. The following haiku typifies sabi(shi) in conveying an atmosphere of solitude or loneliness that undercuts, as Japanese poetry usually does, the distinction between subjective and objective:

Solitary now —

Standing amidst the blossoms

Is a cypress tree.

Contrasting with the colourful beauty of the blossoms, the more subdued gracefulness of the cypress—no doubt older than the person seeing it but no less solitary—typifies the poetic mood of sabi.

Tanizaki’s “In Praise of Shadows” frequently celebrates sabi. By contrast with Western taste, he writes of the Japanese sensibility:

We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive lustre to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity. . . We love things that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call to mind the past that made them. (Tanizaki, 11–12)

This is a significant existential consideration: the sheen of older things connects us with the past in ways that shiny products of modern technology simply cannot. And since older things tend to be made from natural materials, dealing with them helps us to realize our closest connections with the natural environment.

Sabi figures prominently, for Tanizaki, in the aesthetics of the traditional Japanese toilet, which “stands apart from the main building at the end of a corridor, in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss.” He wrestles with the vexations that modern technology imposes on the question of fixtures, as the traditional ones are superseded by “white porcelain and handles of sparkling metal” (Tanizaki, 3, 6).

Notes taken from Britannica and other sources. Sample:


on dancing Shiva

the guardian

of a ruined temple

-- Kala Ramesh


First post: You search and find a haiku that has sabi.

You'll give your reason/s why you think it has this aesthetic nuance. Second post: This will be your first haiku with sabi

Third post: This will be your second haiku with sabi

Please give your feedback on others' commentary and poems too. _()_

Have fun! Keep writing and commenting!

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