3 min read

侘寂

566 words by Kunall Banerjee

Ashikaga Yoshimasa

In the late 15th century, during the Muromachi period, there was a powerful shogun named Ashikaga Yoshimasa. He possessed a much-loved Chinese tea bowl, a rare and treasured piece of ceramic. One day, this precious bowl accidentally fell and broke into pieces.

Distressed by the damage to his cherished bowl, the shogun decided to send it to China for repairs. However, upon its return, he found that the mended vessel was held together with unsightly metal staples. This disappointed Yoshimasa, as the repaired bowl had lost its original beauty and grace.

Determined to find a more elegant solution, Yoshimasa called upon Japanese craftsmen to devise a better method of repair. Eventually, a skilled artisan came up with the idea of using lacquer mixed with powdered gold to mend the broken pieces. This technique not only repaired the bowl but also added a new dimension of beauty and value to it. He admired the repaired bowl and was struck by its new appearance, where the gold veins seemed to embrace the cracks like shimmering scars.

This practice soon became popular and was recognized as Kintsugi, an art form that not only restored broken ceramics, but elevated them into symbols of resilience and beauty.

Sen no Rikyū

Once upon a time, a young Sen no Rikyū approached Takeno Jōō, a recognized tea master at the time to learn the codes of the ancestral ritual of tea ceremony. To test the abilities of his new apprentice, the latter asked him to take care of his garden. Rikyū cleaned it from top to bottom and raked it until it was perfect. But before calling for his master, he shook a cherry tree, and sakura flowers fell to the ground.

This touch of imperfection brought beauty to the scene, further attributing to the fact that there is beauty in imperfection.

Kaguya-hime

This is a story that details the life of Princess Kaguya, who was discovered by a bamboo cutter inside a bamboo stalk. Within just three months, she grows into an adult woman, and becomes exceptionally beautiful. Many men seek her hand in marriage, however, she refuses all proposals.

Princess Kaguya sets a series of impossible tasks for her suitors, stating she would only marry the noble who can bring her the stone begging bowl of the Buddha, a jeweled branch from the mythical island of Hōrai, a robe of Chinese fire-rat skins, a colored jewel from a dragon’s neck, and a cowry shell born from a swallow. They all fail, but soon she meets the Emperor of Japan, who also shows interest in her. She does not ask of him to complete the same impossible tasks, but rejects his request for marriage as well, telling him that she is not from his country and therefore cannot go to the palace with him.

Whenever Princess Kaguya views the full moon, her eyes fill with tears. Soon, she reveals that she is not of Earth, but rather she comes from the Moon. She adds, that she was sent here to Earth as a form of punishment for some crime, because she would inevitably form material attachment. Then one day, an embassy of heavenly beings descend upon the bamboo cutter’s house, which is when she announces that, though she loves her many friends on Earth, she must return with the beings to her true home on the Moon.

This story emphasizes the fleeting nature of beauty and the acceptance of impermanence in life.