Japanese aesthetics #1

One of my main academic interests, which was also one of the frames of my PhD thesis, is the intersection of aesthetics and ethics, especially in the intercultural experience. European philosophy has developed ways to relate to the the spheres of the ‘beautiful’ and the of the ‘good’ in very different ways if compared with Japanese thought. A recent book by Saito Yuriko, Everyday Aesthetics (2008), discusses many of these differences in extremely lucid and insightful ways, drawing examples from from fine arts, architecture, and other crafts, and has greatly inspired my work on the aesthetics and ethics of Noh theatre.

The other day I was doing some Christmas shopping at Juliet’s Letters in Tenjin, Fukuoka when I bumped into this agenda.

Sorry for the bad quality of the photograph.

The cover reads:

‘The philosophy of my life.
Aesthetics 2012
For every single day
Remember to add beauty, nobility, elegance, and tenderness to daily life’.

Those of you who live in, or have visited Japan are used to the rather awkward sentences written in  English on bags, clothes, notebooks, etc. This could be a good example of this bizarre fashion. However, I think the agenda gestures to the attitude that Saito eloquently describes in her book. Japanese culture fosters care and attention for beauty in the objects and gestures that populate our every day life. ‘Beauty’ is a rather broad term, which the creator of the agenda above accompanies by ‘nobility’, ‘elegance’, and, most interestingly, ‘tenderness’. Certainly the form of beauty the author of the plain white-clothed agenda above is not of the sophisticated kind, and its quality of ‘nobility’ and ‘elegance’ do not belong to the aristocratic sphere. It is a ‘tender’, sober (jimi) beauty that this Japanese agenda represents.

Of course it seems to showy for me to carry an agenda that says ‘aesthetics’ on its cover. This, again, provides interesting material for a reflection of the aesthetic sense ‘in translation’ – or, the perception of Western aesthetics through Japanese eyes. Probably, a more sober agenda would not have a sign pointing at itself, saying ‘hey, look at me! I’m sober hence elegant!’

Diego Pellecchia

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