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.

Mike Zitka

Mike Zitka

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

My name is Michael John Zitka.  Birds and folk art have always been my greatest loves.  I consider myself a modern-day folk artist since I’m self-taught and I work with simple materials that are available at my local lumberyard or hardware store. My bird sculptures are made of pine, cut out using a band saw and then laminated using weatherproof glue.  I then use a die grinder  for shaping and a file for the finishing touches leaving a rough texture. The legs are made of 12-gauge wire and soldered at the base of the foot.  The bird is then painted with a primer and finished with exterior latex house paint.  As in the crow, the eye is a tack backed with a silver sequin that adds a whimsical sparkle.

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2) Where are you from and how does this define you and your work?

I was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1951 one of five children.  My father built every house we ever lived in and my mother was very much into sewing,  painting and gardening.  Of all the kids I was the most interested in art.   In the early 1970 I began selling my birds in Gig Harbor at the Galleries Kennedy.  In the1980 I moved to Seattle and began selling my birds at a shop called The Hat and the Heart.

 Mike Zitka at Home

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

As a child, I started out making sand pipers and decoys, which evolved into the birds I do today, the blue jay, woodpecker, robin and crow. I am particularly fond of crow, having had one as a pet and having plenty of experience with their spunkiness.  I often display them with a  ring or key since crows are noted for being attracted to shiny objects and hiding them in a spot known only to them.   What I really love about my work is that the birds are versatile enough to work with antiques or modern contemporary setting alike.

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4) What are you excited about right now?

This last year I have been making owls which I think will be very popular.

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5) What is something you hope to accomplish in the next year?

I would like to keep growing and learning and adding more  birds to my collection.

Mike Zitka

All photographs by Megumi Shauna Arai