Wabi Sabi a.k.a Coming to Terms with The Fact That You Aren’t Perfect

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic that thrives on the idea of natural beauty, brief transitions, and the reminder that nothing should be perfect. An idea that inspires us to remember that we all once originated from nothing and that one day we will all return to nothing.

Wabi Sabi to some could be considered a way of life, by accepting that all things come to an end. It allows one to realize that while something may not be perfect, that doesn’t mean that it can’t be beautiful or meaningful.

Photograph: Tsukuru Anderson

The idea that all things should be perfect and permanent is a western construct, and by choosing to accept their ideals, we can never really come to terms with the fact that something isn’t perfect and that it won’t last forever. That thought will come off as disturbing to those who want to leave their mark on the world. That is not to say you cannot achieve that goal.   The point of Wabi Sabi is simply to reflect on all the beautiful things and accomplishments you have made in striving for perfection.

Photograph: Tsukuru Anderson

By simply accepting the fact that perfection should not be our end goal, we can better come to terms with the fact that we are all simply human. For anything to be otherwise perfect and permanent is to be considered dead and unnatural. So Wabi Sabi asks us to look past the surface of ourselves and the things around us and to see more than what first may appear.

Photograph: Kameyo Okamoto

Bringing Wabi Sabi into your life requires no money, or training, or talent in the arts. It simply asks that you accept things as they are, without excessive decoration or embellishment. To appreciate what is there, instead of what isn’t. To observe with a careful eye, and through our observations find feelings of wistfulness or serenity. The feelings that help to bring forth meaningful and thoughtful contemplation, these are the feelings that embody Wabi Sabi.

Photograph: Tsukuru Anderson

If you’ve been to the Kobo at Higo Shop and Gallery located in the International District, I am sure many of you can attest to the vast array of beautiful art pieces and products that the store has to sell. Many of the art pieces, ceramics, and other products represent the store’s own version of Wabi Sabi. The store itself could be considered Wabi Sabi. Kobo at Higo, once just Higo, used to be a five and dime store, but after the Japanese internment in 1942 the Murakami family was forced to leave their store, and move to the camps.

Photograph: Kameyo Okamoto

Masa Murakami, was the last remaining member of the  family and retired from operating the Higo Variety Store in 2002.   Kobo was invited by the extended Murakami Family to expand their business that they had started on Capitol Hill in 1995, and opened a second location in the Higo space. The Higo space was repurposed to create a new shop, gallery and a museum wall which showcased art and design as well as  highlighting the history of Japantown and the story of the Japanese family that immigrated from Japan to America during the turn of the century.  The space  showed signs of being touched by decades of passing years, the store now in its preserved state is both welcoming and important to the greater community. And while it may not be considered “perfect”, it is through its imperfections, history, and memory that brings about the beauty and  continues to preserve the history of a different place and time.

Photograph: Kameyo Okamoto

Recommendations for Further reading:

Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers By: Leonard Koren

Wabi-Sabi: Further Thoughts By: Leonard Koren

Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence By: Andrew Juniper

Meet Me At Higo: An Enduring Story of a Japanese American Family By: Ken Mochizuki


Kameyo Okamoto is a sophomore from Bennington College, who has been studying Japanese language and visual arts for the past two years. Over the last month and a half she has been interning for Kobo at Higo, allowing her the opportunity to immerse herself in Japanese art, language and culture. She hopes that during her time here she will have learned more about what it is she would like to do in the future, and in turn, to have learned something more about herself.

Haejin Lee

Haejin Lee is a ceramic artist from Seoul, South Korea now based in Vancouver, B.C. Her sculptural work seems to defy gravity and has won many international awards. Haejin’s elegant cups and tableware are available at both KOBO locations.

Haejin Lee ceramic artist Kobo at Higo Seattle

1. Your manipulation of clay into ‘ribbons’ is impressive! How did you begin to use this technique?

I have been always interested in the concept of Mobius strips. I find it fascinating that a two dimensional element–a line–can also be expressed in three dimensions and loop infinitely. ‘Continuity’ and ‘Infinity’ are the main themes behind all my ceramic work. Execution of the technique was not easy at first. It not only required me to calculate the drying rate of each strip, which has various lengths and thicknesses, but I also had to balance the weight of the strips so they wouldn’t collapse when fired. It gives me a sense of achievement when I successfully execute the design with strips that are almost impossible to balance.

kobo seattle haejin lee ceramics

2. How did you get interested in ceramics?
When I was little, I liked to buy little ceramic goods for my friends’ birthdays. I liked the attachment of ceramic wares to our everyday life; drinking tea, having a warm bowl of soup, etc. I always thought it would be a more special and heartfelt present to my dear friends than giving them a pretty fashion accessory.

I was accepted to Sunhwa Art middle school and high school in South Korea. By the time I was 17, I tried most of the media the Art schools offered. I definitely had the most fun in ceramics classes; making three dimensional pieces out of wet clay fired my imagination. I was obsessed with making each piece ‘perfect’ in my standard. I remember spending hours and hours perfecting the coiling technique when I was first learning. Also, my interest in food and table settings of different cultures fueled my passion towards ceramic art. Being able to use my work to hold nicely prepared food on a dinner table is one of the most enjoyable parts of working with ceramics.

Kobo Seattle Haejin Lee ceramics

3. You write that your tableware should be used as everyday dishes instead of being admired in a closed cabinet. Any words of encouragement for those of us who are afraid of breaking such precious pieces?

Every element of my tableware is carefully thought out to make them comfortable and practical: the placement of each handle, the width and volume of cups so they fit in your hand more comfortably, the weight and thickness of each piece is also calculated to be as light as possible, but durable when washed. I think all these little considerations are also a privilege for clients to enjoy when my dishes are utilized rather than being admired in a closed cabinet.

Kobo Seattle Haejin Lee ceramics

4. Do you use your own ceramics at home?

Yes, I do use my own ceramics. In fact, more than 80% of all ceramic ware we use at home was made by me. I think it’s essential to use one’s own designs at home; all of my tableware is tested by me at my own home. I make minor adjustments based on the different experiences I have with each design. It also helps me to come up with new designs.

Kobo Seattle Haejin Lee ceramic tableware mugs

5. If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?

Infinite, controlled, extempore (spontaneous, done without preparation).

Haejin Lee / Ceramic vessels & sculpture
& Risa Salsberg / Drawings & illustrations
KOBO Gallery (at Higo)
August 23 – September 21, 2014
Opening reception with the artists Saturday August 23, 5-8pm
“Made in America” by Kathy Yoshihara on display through Sunday August 17th.

Aaron Murray Interview

1) Please introduce yourself! How would you describe yourself as an artist/creator?
 My name is Aaron Murray, I live on Beacon Hill, I am a ceramic artist and educator. I have been making art on a regular basis since about 1990.   I also make drawings, paintings, collage, prints, and wood sculptures. I make most of my art at home, though I do use studios that I teach in as well(see below pic of Alki. I enjoy gardening and nature plays an important role in my creative process. I am mostly self taught as an artist, though I was formally trained in ceramics at a junior college and at the University of North Texas.  I consider my work to be cultural, humorous, and thoughtful.  I try to make things that are affordable and useful.  Much of what I make is considered to be production oriented, but within each series there is a lot of variety.
2) Where are you from and how does this define you and your work?
I was born in Pasco, Washington though I spent the majority of my youth in the suburbs near Dallas,TX.  My parents divorced when I was about 9, and my mom and I ended up in Texas.  I used to spend my summers in Washington visiting my father.   I also traveled a lot because my mother worked for the airlines. When I was a teenager I visited Oaxaca, Mexico and visited the folk art villages in the countryside .  My mother and her husband were acquiring folk art at wholesale to bring back to Texas: rugs, black pottery, wood carvings,etc.  As I grew older and returned I became enamored  by the people earning their living by making art. During my travels I was also able to visit a lot of museums.  By seeing many cultural objects first hand, I was inspired to create objects for the present. I sometimes think…”what if this cup lasts a thousand years?”  At some point I realized that it was a worthwhile pursuit, I think there is a certain honesty about creating your own objects and sharing them with others.
aaron murray 2
3) How did you get involved with your art, and what is your favorite part of your process?
 I got involved with my art when I began to think of it as a practice.  When considering practice, one is allowed to make mistakes and those mistakes are often useful in expanding the work and taking it into new directions. I also   gained more confidence by practicing a lot.  It seems the more art I make, the more ideas I have.
  My process for making art usually involves some research. If it is a larger project I might make a few sketches or prototypes and then attempt the real thing. If it doesn’t come out the way I want it I might have to make it over again.  I also love to brainstorm.  On works in a series I like to make lists of the possibilities,which may or may not get used in the real art. Though many of the sculptures may seem spontaneous,I have practiced many of the skills used to make the objects many times over. I like to study patterns that I see in nature and try to make something similar with brush strokes.  I also have thus far avoided using molds. I prefer that each piece looks hand made and retains a craft person sensibility.
4) What are you excited about right now?
Right now I am excited about recycling clay, using different colored clay bodies, digging and experimenting with local clays, pit firing, and slip decoration.  Recently I recycled some buckets of clay and made a series of bowls and plates.   There are about 6 different clay bodies involved.  I am also hoping to do a pit firing in April, with a bunch of pieces made with earthenware that are separate. I am also making some larger sculptures that are coil or slab built, mostly animal forms and some pieces from my “stuffs” series.
aaron murray
5) What is something you hope to accomplish in the next year?
I hope that I will continue to make lots of great sculptures, wares, and other art.  I plan on becoming more consistent with my design and craftsmanship by refining my skills through practice and by having as much fun as possible.
I have a blog that I update from time to time with new stuff and works from the archives.
All photos by Aaron Murray

Jewels Curnow


1) Please introduce yourself! How would you describe yourself as an artist/creator?

  Jewels Curnow is a team of two – myself Robbie Curnow and my wife Chantay Curnow. We use
innovative setting and casting techniques. Many of our designs use a primitive style of casting in cuttlefish bone. The cuttlefish bone gives a unique texture and can create one-of-a-kind original pieces. I custom blend many of my own alloys and I hand select all of the gemstones. Each of our designs explores geometry and proportions found in nature.
2) Where are you from and how does this define you and your work?

My family moved to Seattle when I was a small child. They came from the Colorado area where they met through my great grandparents on one side and my grandparents on the other, who were in the same gem and mineral club.


3) How did you get involved with your art, and what is your favorite part of your process?

 My biggest influence artistically was my great-grandmother June. She inspired me creatively – to look beyond the ready-made, past the mundane and into the infinite possibilities that can be expressed through the building blocks of matter. In terms of technical and scientific aspects of the craft my Grandfather taught me to see how things worked and how things interact together. This lead me to experimentation and try new things and trying to push the boundaries of normal jewelry making. He’s also the person who got me most interested in gemstones and mineralogy.
4) What are you excited about right now?       The upcoming trunk show at Kobo.
5) What is something you hope to accomplish in the next year?

This year I will have new and innovative designs I’m adding to my line and I look forward to everyone seeing these creations.




Kobo has started a blog! This will be a platform for us to showcase the amazing artists we work with at our shop!  Learn about these people and come by to see their work at Kobo.