Japanese aesthetics—3 minimalist design concepts you need to know

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

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. 

However, many minimalists focus on the personal growth aspect of this philosophy, while forgetting that the aesthetic element is just as important. 

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. Minimalist design is not just beautiful, but also useful in that it:

  • allows you to appreciate empty voids in your space that you would otherwise fill with kitch 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

— Leornado da Vinci

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About Japanese aesthetics 

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. 

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. 


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.

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