Japanese aesthetics: minimalist simple living concepts for everyone

japanese minimalist aesthetics

An Introduction to Japanese Minimalist Philosophy

Inspired by minimalist design, but don’t know how to update your style or space to embody it? Take your cue from Japanese minimalist aesthetics

Minimalist design is an incredibly popular trend that is easy to curate on Pinterest and swoon over, though not so easy to incorporate into your own space and style.

But if you are eager to adopt a more sleek and sophisticated aesthetic, all is not lost. There are three Japanese concepts that will help you get started.

Why Japanese minimalist design? 

As a minimalist, you understand that less is often more. It is only when you remove the nonessential that you can focus on what matters most. This can certainly apply to not only the design of your home and the things in it, but also your overall lifestyle.

Studies on people that embrace minimalism show that they spend more of their energy doing things or obtaining things they truly care about, which leads to more happiness. Very few countries have embraced this simplicity more than Japan.

However, many minimalists focus on the personal growth aspect of this philosophy, while forgetting that the aesthetic element is just as important. Minimalist Japanese concepts are great to use for inspiration, understanding not only the concepts for aesthetics, but also for life in general.

In fact, incorporating minimalism into your environment is one of the easiest ways to experience more positive emotions. This is why Zen and Feng Shui are such powerful concepts. Minimalism is not just beautiful, but also useful in that it:

  • allows you to appreciate negative space that you would otherwise fill with objects and clutter 
  • creates a sense of calm, peace and serenity in your physical and mental space
  • helps you build confidence in and express your personal interests and style in a refined way

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication

Leonardo Da Vinci

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About Japanese Minimalism 

Like many cultures, the Japanese have a rich art tradition. However their aesthetic philosophy, though inspired by ancient concepts, is relatively modern. 

In the 19th century a number of aesthetic principles gave rise to an academic discipline and field of study called Japanese aesthetics.

Borrowing heavily from Buddhism and Confucianism, these principles go beyond the specification of what is visually pleasing, but are also seen as ways of living. 

We’ve highlighted three concepts from Japanese aesthetics, to provide guidance on how you can approach the simplification of your style and space. Understanding wabi, shibui, iki, and danshari is key to living the art of minimalism, drawing inspiration from the concepts originated in Japan.

Wabi: Simple 

When you think of wabi, think of natural beauty. It denotes a simple and understated, almost austere, style. It is also a philosophy that highly regards modesty and minor imperfections.

The term wabi is often combined with another distinct term, sabi, which is roughly translated as rustic and well-aged. Together wabi-sabi refers to an aesthetic that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. 

Shibui: Subtle 

When you think of shibui, think of subdued beauty. Shibui denotes a subtle and unobtrusive style. Something that embodies shibui doesn’t have to scream look at me, I’m beautiful. Instead, it quietly draws attention to itself.

There is an understated elegance to a person, place or thing that is shibui. Though it may have impressive intricacies, it is not overt and balances complexity with simplicity. 

Iki: Refined 

Iki can be interpreted as smart and sophisticated. It denotes a refined, perhaps effortlessly chic, aesthetic. Someone or something that is iki is clearly and unabashedly stylish, but not pretentious about it. 

In alignment with other Japanese aesthetic principles, someone with iki refrains from being showy or gaudy. Yet they have good taste and are polished and fashionable. 

Danshari: Refuse, Dispose, Separate

Danshari is one of the core concepts of minimalism in Japan. This concept has been popularized by books like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki. Danshari is comprised of three characters, which translate to “refuse, dispose, and separate.” As a whole, the concept represents a way of decluttering your life and keeping only the essential things that bring you joy. While the most popular applications of danshari in Western culture relate to removing things from your space, the overall concept is more about the minimalism lifestyle as a whole. The danshari concept of “less is more” is at the foundation of minimalistic design, living, decluttering and self-improvement.

Adopting minimalist aesthetics

It’s great to understand the concepts of Japanese minimalist design, but it is a whole different thing to implement it. To get the full advantages of these concepts, it’s best to work on applying them to multiple aspects of your life. Here are some good places to start:

Embrace Negative Space

White space and simplicity will go a long way to simplifying your life. Don’t be afraid of walls, countertops, or even rooms that leave a lot of space and a lack of possessions. Whether you live in a house, apartment, or tiny home, there is always room to use simplicity in your space.

Get rid of the non-essential

Japan has done an excellent job with their many minimalist lifestyle concepts at simplifying everything down to the essential. This applies to your wardrobe, your home, your work and even your relationships. Evaluate all of these things step-by-step and determine what items, tasks, and even people that you can live happily without.

Focus on a simple diet

Applying these same concepts to the way that you plan your meals and eat is another way to simplify your life. Without having to spend a lot of time or effort on eating, you will free up mind space that can be used for other, more productive things. Check out our article on the best diets for minimalists as a starting point.

Simplify your Wardrobe

Implementing a capsule wardrobe and simplifying your style will help to remove a lot of the clutter in your decision making process each day. By building a streamlined wardrobe consisting of essential pieces that all go well together, you can make space in both your closet and your mind.

Choose your Own Path

While it’s great to draw inspiration from Japan, it is ultimately your life. Feel free to find items, concepts and practices that you like from Japanese Minimalism, but don’t feel like you have to follow everything too strictly. Building a set of principles that you can go back to when you need to make decisions is a great place to start. From there, pick and choose what you want to keep, discard, add, or implement.

Get some help

It can be overwhelming to try to take all of this on at once and apply it to all areas of your life. Our Simplify Your Life Course gives you the education and guides you through a step-by-step process to implement these concepts into your life.

Japanese minimalist aesthetic mood board

The minimalist aesthetic is not reserved for fashion and design influencers. You too can create a simple and sophisticated space or look, by starting with these Japanese concepts that teach you the basics. Follow our Pinterest mood board for inspiration and design direction.