Eight Manifestations of the Japanese Aesthetic – Part I

by Oliver Geffken. Average Reading Time: about 3 minutes.

„Where a person’s bottom ends is unclear. The bottom is vaguely linked to the back. The beauty of a woman’s body lies in this sense of ma projected by this vagueness
of meaning.“

Masayuki Kurokawa

1 – Totality in details: Bi
2 – Parallel aggregation of details: Hei
3 – Mutual harmony created by the appearance of details: Ma
4 – Simplification leading to richness: Fu
5 – Splendor created through concealment: Hi
6 – The world was originally harmonious: So
7 – Flowing beauty with no resistance: Ka
8 – Destruction is creation: Ha

1. Totality in details: Bi

I believe that it is precisely the details (bi) that embrace the whole. In terms of people, the idea is that overall harmony is obtained not by people being aware of sin as determined by God, but by their possession of feelings and consideration for others in forms such as shame and obligation, in other words by the individuals who constitute the minutiae of society possessing a social nature.In terms of space, the whole world is concentrated in specific, individual places represented in accordance with where specific individuals happen to be located in terms of “here” and “there”.

On the level of time too, individual moments constituting “now” are bound up with the past and the future. In the West there is the idea that God is present in the finest details, but in Japan the idea is that it is precisely the finest details that house the whole.The details are not a part of the whole but incorporate the whole within. This is why the sukiya* — the hut in which the tea ceremony is held—is thought of as a space constituting a microcosm of the whole universe.

The sukiya projects itself radially out into the garden and further from the garden into the landscape beyond, thus eventually encompassing the whole of the world in its grasp. In society it is the individual; in a village it is the individual buildings; in space it is “here” and “there”; in the case of time it is the moment represented by “now” that embraces the totality.

Totality in details: Bi

Despite the fact that the garden lies outside the sukiya, every attention is paid to its finest detail in the same manner as the space inside the room. Every corner of the garden is considered to possess the same value as the world itself.

The sukiya incorporates within its internal space every aspect of the landscape seen from where the tea master is seated and including the room interior, the garden, the outside area, the view in the distance, and out into the universe itself in the manner of a skewer extending progressively outside from within the room.

Totality in details: Bi

The world thus expands from the room out to the outer corridor, the garden and further into the landscape beyond the grounds of the property,resulting in the gradual layered expansion of the world from a single point inside the room. The Japanese awareness of space is that the outward expansion of space conversely comes to incorporate everything, including the universe itself. A single point is thus a concentration of the whole world.

* Note: The sukiya was a type of building generally in the form of a hut used in the performance of the tea ceremony and originally devised by Sen no Rikyu in the middle of the 16 th century.

This fantastic insight into the principles of Japanese Aesthetics becomes possible through a transcript of Masayuki Kurokawa’s speech at the award ceremony of the Next Maruni Competition, held some years ago. We’re really looking forward to post the following parts here soon.

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