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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Welcome!

Neko

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.