Yūgen : A traditional Japanese aesthetics



“Sky” in Japanese is 空 (sora). It’s one of my favorite Japanese words and is also a beautiful Japanese name. Sora was the lead character in the video games, Kingdom Hearts, for example. But interestingly, the same kanji, when read as 空く (aku), means to “become empty.” So the kanji 空 can refer to empty vastness, too.

Another absolutely beautiful Japanese word that perfectly captures a scene: 花吹雪 (hanafubuki). This is when falling cherry blossom petals fall so fast, it looks like snow.

And speaking of cherry blossoms, that’s 桜 (sakura) in Japanese. That’s another common name and a beloved word in Japanese culture. There’s a lot of revere for the Japanese cherry blossom trees, and many festivals center around them.

森林浴 (shinrin-yoku) means “forest bath.” You may have heard of this one because it’s become a bit trendy. But there’s evidence that “forest bathing” — AKA, walking through the forest and taking in the greenery — is beneficial for your health and wellbeing. There’s also the beautiful word 木漏れ日 (komorebi) that describes the sunlight shining through the leaves, and the slight green hue it takes on in the forest. And during autumn, you’ll see 落葉 (rakuyou), which are the colorful leaves falling to the ground.

木枯らし (kogarashi) describe the cold wintry wind felt at the beginning of the season. And 川あかり (kawa-akari) is the peaceful way lights reflect off a river in the evenings and at night.

Many Japanese find beauty in things not immediately obvious to be beautiful, so they have a word for that feeling, too. 幽玄 (yuugen) means “mysterious” but all ties into the concept of meditation and reflecting on the mysterious beauty of the universe.

Lastly, 金次 (kintsugi), which means “golden repair.” It’s another trend from Japan that’s become popular recently, and for good reason. 金次 is the art of repairing broken things, like pottery or dishes, by piecing it back together and sealing it with gold lacquer. This makes the object more beautiful and unique than it was before. It gives off the vibes that “nothing’s ever broken beyond repair” and “there’s beauty in imperfection.”


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