I freely admit I've been obsessed with Japan, the culture in particular, ever since I was thirteen. While adulthood has tempered that with a more realistic perspective, I've still been enamored with much of Japan.
"Learning Japanese" to me hasn't just been about learning the language, but a lot of the culture as well. There's much to appreciate, a little I can leave out, and overall an aesthetic sense that seems more beautiful. Of course, that's in the eye of the beholder.
One particular aspect that I've enjoyed is the concept of "wabi-sabi".
Wabi-sabi as a concept and aesthetic is hard to describe in Western terms although many definitions for it exist. The closest I've come to is the embrace of simplicity, austerity, modesty, roughness and imperfection; things as they are when they were closest to the raw material from which they were made. These pertain to ordinary objects in one's household, to one's dwelling, and immediate surroundings including nature.
The more I thought about it, the more I felt the striking contrast between the precise and synthetic modern and the imprecise and well worn. There's a warm comfort in keeping an object, particularly one made of a natural material such as wood or clay, that I feel is harder to attain with a modern, complex, or more stylistic object.
A wooden utensil that has seen many years of use has far more character and than a shiny new piece of silverware. A chipped, cracked, otherwise imperfect hand-made ceramic cup imbues the user with a sense that embracing the nature of imperfection, both within the object and within all of us, is the right thing to do.
I like my old ThinkPad laptop from 2009. It's a functional piece of equipment that I used to write this post and I'm accustomed to its particular quirks. But I'm not in love with my laptop. I can lose it and get the exact same model because there are many identical to it. Beyond its functionality and other obvious attributes, there's little of it that I find truly endearing.
Wabi-sabi implies a rustic uniqueness that is harder to describe yet is somehow recognizable and completely endearing. It's also quite perplexing that hyper-modern Japan is still the home of this particular brand of aesthetic. It's for this reason that I've adopted the rustic prefix for my name.
This is learning Japanese.