Japanese Principles of Design I JLife International

Japanese Principles of Design

Japanese design and aesthetics vary greatly from those of Western culture. Traditionally known as "Wabi-sabi" (侘寂), the ideas of Japanese design were heavily influenced by the Buddhist belief of Anicca, or impermanence. Unlike Western society, aesthetics in Japan transcend the home and are seen and practiced as a part of every day life. Continue reading to learn the main seven principles of Japanese design and how Japanese people use them to make both their homes and their lives more meaningful.


Kanso (簡素) is defined as "simplicity" or the elimination of clutter. According to kanso design, everything in the home must have a purpose - nothing is there for simple decoration. When followed, kanso is believed to help soothe anxiety and de-clutter the mind.

The traditional shikifuton mattress is an excellent example of kanso, as these Japanese sleeping mats are entirely multifunctional and can even be rolled up for storage when not in use, thus allowing a single space to be used for a variety of purposes.

Japanese Principles of Design I JLife International


Simply put, fukinsei (不均整) is the concept of balanced asymmetry. Using controlled imbalance allows us to see the beauty in imperfection and embrace creativity. The enso circle, a Zen Buddhist symbol that is usually painted as an incomplete circle, is an excellent example of this.

Fukinsei is meant to bring us closer to nature and reflect the imperfection of the universe - there is never any truly perfect symmetry in nature, and fukinsei reflects that philosophy into the home.

Shibui/ Shibumi

This principle is the idea of finding beauty by being understated; that there is elegance in simplicity. In Japanese, "Shibui" (渋い) is the adjective form while "shibumi" (渋み) is the noun, but they are both used to describe certain decor.

This concept focuses on the balance of simplicity and complexity, so that we never tire of looking at the same object, rather we are continuously mesmerized by it. Today, the term is often used to describe minimalist decor.

Japanese Principles of Design I JLife International


Shizen (自然) design focuses on the absence of artificiality. A common misconception is that shizen is simply nature, but this in incorrect. Instead, this philosophy of design has to do with how humans interact with nature. Within the principle of shizen, there is room for human interference. A golf course is a good example of this, a meticulously maintained bonsai tree, or even Central Park in New York City. While it is completely man-made, it would still be considered natural or a part of nature.

Shizen I JLife International


Yūgen (幽玄) is the idea of showing more by showing less. It is said to be a “profound, mysterious, sense of beauty of the universe, and the sad beauty of human suffering”, according to ancient philosophical texts. Yūgen is meant to trigger an emotional response and to demonstrate an acute awareness of the universe. This occurs when we look at an object or scene and see a deeper beauty that is impressed upon it through our own conscious connections we make during observation. Yūgen sees past superficial beauty of a subject to relate it to the human experience. 

An example of yūgen that most people have experienced would be gazing up at the starry sky at night. While contemplating the vastness of space, taking in the beauty of the twinkling darkness, one can't help but consider how small and seemingly insignificant we are in that moment. 


Datsuzoku (だつぞく) is the freedom from habit or formula, or the idea of transcending the conventional. It pushes you to discover more creativity and to perceive your surroundings differently. By embracing the idea of datsuzoku, we break free from the restraints of what must be, and discover instead what can be.

Japanese Principles of Design I JLife International


Lastly, seijaku (静寂) is the idea of finding tranquility or organized calm in the home. This Japanese design principle focuses not on escaping the hecticness of life entirely, but rather maintaining calmness and tranquility amidst a busy life; an "energized relaxation".

Seijaku teaches us to take a moment to recognize and appreciate the positive aspects that can still be be found in a busy or stressful life. The Japanese Zen garden is considered to be one of the best examples of seijaku design, becasue it serves as a quiet respite amidst a busy world.

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1 comment

Amen… I love reading about the simplicity yet complexity made simple of Japanese design… It is what drew me to love Japan even more every time I visited…


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