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.

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



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.