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Japanese Principles of Design

Japanese design and aesthetics vary greatly from western culture.  Traditionally known as Wabi- Sabi, the ideas of Japanese design were heavily influenced by the Buddhist belief of Anicca- impermanence.  Additionally, unlike western society aesthetics in Japan transcend the home and are seen and practiced as a part of every day life.  Today we are going to be discussing the main seven principles of design and how the Japanese use them to make both their homes and their lives more meaningful.  


Kanso is defined as simplicity or the elimination of clutter.  Everything in the home must have a purpose, nothing is there for simple decoration.  When followed it is believed to help soothe anxiety and de-clutter the mind.  Traditional shikifutons are an excellent example of Kanso as they are extremely multifunctional and can even be rolled up for storage when not in use, allowing one space to serve multiple purposes

Japanese Principles of Design I JLife International


Simply put fukinsei is balanced asymmetry.  Using controlled imbalance is a central idea to the principles of Japanese design.  The enso circle, which is usually painted as an incomplete circle is a very good 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 back into the home.

Shibui/ Shibumi

This principle is the idea of finding beauty by being understated, elegance in simplicity.  Shibui is the adjective and shibumi is the noun but they are both used to describe certain décor.  This concept focuses on the balance of simplicity and complexity so we never tire of looking at the same object, we are continuously mesmerized by it.  Today the term is often used to describe minimalist décor.

Japanese Principles of Design I JLife International


Shizen is the absence of artificiality.  Many people believe shizen to simply be nature but this in incorrect, it 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, or even Central Park.  While it is completely man made it would still be considered natural or a part of nature.

Shizen I JLife International


Yugen is the idea of showing more by showing less.  It is believed to be a “profound, mysterious, sense of beauty of the universe, and the sad beauty of human suffering.”  It is meant to trigger an emotional response and to demonstrate an acute awareness of the universe.


Datsuzoku is the freedom from habit or formula.  This is the idea of transcending the conventional.  It pushes you to discover more creativity and to perceive your surroundings differently.

Japanese Principles of Design I JLife International


Seijaku is the idea of finding tranquility or organized calm in the home.  The Japanese garden is thought to be one of the best examples of seijaku.

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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