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.

Betsy Williams

This month Kobo at Higo has the pleasure of featuring two ceramic artists from New Mexico, Betsy Williams and Birdie Boone. 

Image by Robert Eckert

A few years after graduating college, potter Betsy Williams moved to New York on a whim and was trained as a money market trader at a Japanese bank. During her 5 years there, her Japanese co-workers introduced her to the incredible world of Japanese culture, especially ceramics, and ultimately Betsy left her job with the bank to apprentice with ceramist Yutaka Ohashi of Karatsu, Japan. After 4½ years of intensive training, Betsy returned to New Mexico to build her own adobe house and studio. She has been a professional potter for 13 years.

the kiln

1) You have a background in Russian literature, and discovered Japanese ceramics through coworkers at a bank. Did your obsession with Japanese ceramics take you by surprise?

Yes – it completely knocked me off my feet.  I had liked my job and my co-workers, but on a deeper level, I had so many questions about life and felt unsatisfied with mine.  When I first visited the Metropolitan Museum with a co-worker and stood before this one particular piece – a slightly asymmetrical celadon vase from Korea – something just clicked.  I started to read books about ceramics, and to look at ceramics.  I looked and looked and looked,  especially at the old pieces, from the 16th and 17th centuries.  Then the same co-worker called a little Japanese pottery studio near FIT in Manhattan, and asked on my behalf if I could join. I started going there after work, and on Saturdays.  They had an excellent collection of books there, each dedicated to a particular historical style of Japanese ceramics.  It was then that I began to hatch my plan of moving to Japan…

cupism 9

2) If you could only use 3 words to describe your work, what would they be?
1.  composed
2.  mysterious
3.  graphic



3) How does living in New Mexico impact your work?
The quiet is the main thing.  The birds, trees, bugs, the clarity of light and shadow, the air, the sky, the being able to see far, the million shades of green, the seasons.


tiny plates in progress

4) Do you use your own ceramics at home? Other artists’ work you enjoy using?
Oh yes – our cabinets are filled – but mostly with extras from orders or things with some flaw here or there that I like enough to use, but that don’t quite make the cut. I have a piece of Birdie’s that I use often.  A few Rebecca Wood plates.  Samuel Johnson cups. A variety of pieces from Japan.

Betsy Williams’s ceramics will be on display at Kobo at Higo alongside the work of Birdie Boone from Saturday June 21 – Sunday July 13.

Learn more about Betsy Williams here: enbi studio | Facebook



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.