Japan’s time-honored aesthetic values

Miyabi 雅, Yugen 幽玄, Basara 婆娑羅, Furyu  風流, Wabi 詫び, Sabi 寂び,

Japanese aesthetics, in its nature covers a broad spectrum in comparison with the explicit formulation of “aesthetics” in the Western sense, and is seen as an integral part of daily life. It now encompasses a variety of ideals; some of these are traditional while others are modern and sometimes influenced from other cultures. We are going to show you Japanese seven aesthetic ideas - two pairs of medieval conflicting ideas, a pair of ones in the early modern period, and two similar contemporary ideas – and their influences on Anime and Manga today.

From the Kokufu (国風, kokufū, Japanese style) era in the 10th century - Japan has gradually reduced strong influences of China, and taken hold her own national identity – (the philosophical discipline corresponding to Western “aesthetics”) (a set of ideals) has emerged in the course of the tradition, includes medieval concepts: miyabi (, miyabi, courtly style or behavior), yugen (幽玄, yūgen, a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe and the sad beauty of human suffering), basara (婆娑羅, basara, posing for dramatic effect dressed in imported gaudery form china.), furyu (風流, fūrū, ostentatious flamboyant design), wabi (詫び, wabi, transient and stark beauty), sabi (寂び, sabi , the beauty of natural patina and aging).

The Tale of Genji well depicted mono no aware (物のあはれ, mono no aware, lit. the pathos of things

The ideas of miyabi – yugen and those of basara – furyu are at opposite poles, and although the later had a hard time in the Muromachi era, both have continues to rub off on many for centuries.

Graham Parkes (Professor of Philosophy, and Head of the School of Sociology and Philosophy at University College Cork, Ireland) believes, “Yūgen (幽玄) may be, among generally recondite Japanese aesthetic ideas, the most ineffable. Rooted in a general feature of East-Asian culture, which favors allusiveness over explicitness and completeness, it describes the subtle profundity of things that are only vaguely suggested.”

Okazaki Yoshie (岡崎 義恵; 1892-1982, Japanese literature scholar) asserted that the aesthetic and literary ideas in ōchō (王朝, ōchō, dynasty) culture in early 10th to 11th century, including mono no aware (物のあはれ, mono no aware, lit. the pathos of things) - an empathy toward things, or a sensitivity of ephemera is a Japanese term used to describe the awareness of mujō (無常, transience of things) and a gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing, and okashi (をかし, getting absorbed, more or more interested) – a clear and intellectual sensitivities to beauty, fused into yūgen.

Japan’s time-honored aesthetic values

Japan’s time-honored aesthetic values
Image:(C)大和和紀・講談社/あさきゆめみし製作委員会 on click Genji Monogatari: Sennen no Nazo (源氏物語 千年の謎 literally The Tale of Genji: A Thousand Year Mystery) is a 2011 Japanese film based on the epic Japanese story, The Tale of Genji.

The Tale of Genji (源氏物語, Genji Monogatari) in the early eleventh century is considered to be the world's first novel attributed to Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部; 973 – 1014 or 1025), or Lady Murasaki; concentrates on romantic life of Hikaru Genji (光源氏), an emperor’s son, and describes the customs of the aristocratic society of the Heian–era court.

Parkes also mentioned, “The art in which the notion of yūgen, has played the most important role is the Nō drama, one of the world's great theater traditions, which attained its highest flourishing through the artistry of Zeami Motokiyo (世阿弥 元清; 1363 – 1443).” As a matter of fact, The tales of Genji has been a major source of Nō drama. Among them, a category called Mugen nō (夢幻能) usually deals with spirits, ghosts, phantasms, and supernatural worlds.

The visualized version of The Tale of Genji, The Genji Monogatari Emaki (源氏物語絵巻), a pictorial hand scroll of appeared as early as between 1120 and 1130 - a little over one hundred years after Lady Murasaki wrote the novel.

The Tale of Genji (あさきゆめみし, Asakiyumemishi) is a Japanese manga version of Murasaki Shikibu's The Tale of Genji by Waki Yamato. Genji Monogatari Sennenki: Genji (源氏物語千年紀 Genji, lit. "The Tale of Genji: A Millennium-Old Journal: Genji") is a Japanese anime adaptation of The Tale of Genji. Originally, it was meant to be an anime adaptation of Waki's work, but the director, Osamu Dezaki decided to make it a direct adaptation of the original tale.

Japan’s time-honored aesthetic values

Makoto Shinkai
新海 誠 

雲のむこう、約束の場所, Kumo no Mukō, Yakusoku no Basho, lit. "Beyond the Clouds, the Promised Place"

  • Inuyasya
Top left to bottom right:(C)2006 結城光流・あさぎ桜/角川書店・少年陰陽師製作委員会, 岡野 玲子, 新海 誠

Besides The Tale of Genji, the combination of miyabi and yūgen is found in various manga like Shōnen Onmyōji (少年陰陽師), Nurarihyon no Mago (ぬらりひょんの孫, Nurarihyon's Grandchild), Onmyō Taisenki (陰陽大戦記) , and so on; they are to do with Onmyōji (陰陽師), a traditional Japanese esoteric cosmology, a mixture of natural science and occultism from around the late 7th century.

We can see another feature of yūgen, the sad beauty in works of Makoto Shinkai (新海 誠, Shinaki Makoto, a Japanese anime director, animator) like Voices of a Distant Star (, Hoshi no Koe, lit. "Voices of Stars"), The Place Promised in Our ほしのこえEarly Days (雲のむこう、約束の場所, Kumo no Mukō, Yakusoku no Basho, lit. "Beyond the Clouds, the Promised Place"), and 5 Centimeters Per Second (秒速5センチメートル, Byōsoku Go Senchimētoru). Silence and stillness are legendary features of Japan's traditional arts stem from mono no aware or yūgen.

“Some of (Hayao) Miyazaki’s low-key enchantment emanates from a technical decision:he uses silence,” As critic Charles Solomon has written in the New York Times, “recent American animations have grown increasingly garrulous, with characters spewing out dialogue at a rapid-fire pace, addling the audience with a constant stream of asides and jokes.”

Susan Napier, an America anime scholar and author describes: “Totoro effectively creates a low-key sense of the entertainment lurking in daily life.” Roland Keltz, an American writer continues “This is a far cry from the genial chirpiness or wisecracking sassiness of so many of Disney’s animated animals, especially the recent ones, who often seen perpetually pumped up by antidepressants, or else infallibly wise.”


Feature Story

  • 原哲夫

    Basara (婆娑羅) and Amime & Manga

    Kabukimono (かぶきもの) personified basara (婆娑羅, basara, posing for dramatic effect dressed in imported gaudery form china.) and furyu (風流, fūrū, ostentatious flamboyant design).


    "Moe" (萌え) and Amime & Manga

    "Moe" (萌え, mo’e), came out in 90th, is not a trendy concept something popping out of the blue, but an aesthetic sense that has intricately tied to the Japanese traditional aesthetic ideas.

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