How to Apply Japanese Minimalism to Your Life

There’s no denying the impact of Japanese minimalism on Western society—you see it’s influence in fashion, interior design, product aesthetics, and the overall minimalist lifestyle. People often associate Japanese minimalism with a certain aesthetic such as neutral colors, simple design with a lot of open space, and the use of natural elements or materials. 

While this isn’t wrong, Japanese minimalism extends far beyond the aesthetic. Inspired by traditional Zen Buddhism, the concept of minimalism is more of a philosophy that shaped traditional Japanese culture, art, and lifestyle. In this blog, we will take a look at a few principles that help shape Japanese minimalism and how you can apply them to your life and home.

tea cup on top of wabisabi book on wooden table


In the simplest terms, wabi-sabi means finding beauty in imperfection. This phrase didn’t always portray a positive idea. If you look back far enough, the term “wabi” has a few different meanings: solitude in nature and melancholy. The term “sabi” used to mean impermanence or wither over time. However, over the span of centuries, philosophers and poets used the terms to convey a more optimistic view, such as rustic, natural simplicity, and beauty over time.

Nowadays, wabi-sabi is used in a positive context; a common application is the appreciation of natural imperfections in raw elements. Some examples would be the colors and textures of wood grain or the natural development of patina in your leather goods over time. Other applications can be used in food and drink; the process of aging wine to enhance its flavors and taste. 

How to Apply

Learn to appreciate the natural beauty of organic or natural elements in your home. Rather than buying fully synthetic products with a pristine finish, incorporate and highlight more natural elements in your home, like wooden furniture, shelving, or smaller products such as wicker baskets. Embrace open space and simplicity–you don’t have to fill empty space with clutter. 

Aside from aesthetics, wabi-sabi can be applied to your life as well. It can be something simple as your schedule, sometimes things don’t go as planned, just embrace it and go with the flow rather than stressing over it. Pleasant surprises and new experiences can come out of unplanned moments.

shibui with natural cement wall above bathroom sinkShibui

The term shibui means silent, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. In a different context, it can imply something simple with hidden complexity. A product, an action, or person can be considered shibui. Although shibui can incorporate aspects of wabi-sabi, the vice versa does not apply.

Shibui is intended to evoke awareness and appreciation for life as it is. Yanagi Soetsu, a Japanese philosopher, describes it as a refined taste, something we come to understand over time. In Japan, many older Japanese people have learned to appreciate everyday pleasures, such as taking a walk around the neighbourhood. This may seem like something very “normal” but there is something beautiful about its simplicity. 

How to Apply

In simpler terms, shibui can be described as finding beauty in normal, everyday things. For objects, something simple like a ceramic tea cup can have uneven texture and subtle patterns that brings out its beauty. For people, shibui can be subtle acts of kindness, patience, or modesty.

Having gratitude in life would be another way of applying shibui; appreciating the small day-to-day things allows us to find beauty in life. Having a few hours to relax, spending quality time with friends or family, or just getting a good night's sleep are things that we may not think about but take for granted

ma principle with negative space on empty wall behind potted plant


In art, ma refers to negative (empty) space (or perception of it), which is the background or area around the main subject of the art piece. If you view it from a philosophical perspective, ma can be seen as how we spend our time, interact with the space we live in, and how we engage with our surroundings. 

Influence from ma can be easily observed in minimalist design. For interior design, having plenty of open space in your home makes it feel more light, airy, and comfortable. Ma emphasizes the negative space is just as important as the main component, which gives shape to the unit as a whole. For graphic and web design, the abundance of negative space is essential for guiding users to the areas of focus. 

How to Apply

Decluttering is a great application of ma in your home—the removal of excess items allows you to focus on just the essentials, simplifying your home. If you apply ma to your life, think of negative space as your free time, removing distractions allows you to have more free time, allowing headspace for creativity and possibilities. 

Intentional Application

Although the extent of minimalism can vary based on individual preference, wabi-sabi, shibui, and ma are highly relevant to Western society’s minimalist movement. Finding beauty in imperfection, appreciating the small everyday things, and embracing empty space will help find more joy and meaning in life.