Wabi-sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The phrase comes from the two words wabi and sabi. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, modesty, intimacy, and suggest a natural process.
It is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of what we think of as traditional Japanese beauty and it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West. Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.
A good example of this embodiment may be seen in certain styles of Japanese pottery. In Japanese tea ceremony, cups used are often rustic and simple-looking, with shapes that are not quite symmetrical, and colors or textures that appear to emphasize an unrefined or simple style. In reality, the cups can be quite expensive and in fact, it is up to the knowledge and observational ability of the participant to notice and discern the hidden signs of a truly excellent design or glaze. This may be interpreted as a kind of wabi-sabi aesthetic, further confirmed by the way the glaze is known to change in color with time as tea is repeatedly poured into them (sabi) and the fact that the cups are deliberately chipped or nicked at the bottom (wabi), which serves as a kind of signature of the style.
Wabi sabi describes a means where students can learn to live life through the sense and better engage in life as it happens rather than caught up in unnecessary thoughts. In this sense wabi sabi is the material representation of Zen Buddhism. The idea being that being surrounded by natural, changing, unique objects helps us connect to our real world and escape potentially stressful distractions.
In one sense wabi sabi is a training where the student of wabi sabi learns to find the most simple objects interesting, fascinating and beautiful. Fading autumn leaves would be an example. Wabi sabi can change our perception of our world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and give the object greater meditative value. Similarly materials that age such a bare wood, paper and fabric become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be observed over time.