The best books on Japanese aesthetics

Kevin Nute Author Of This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual
By Kevin Nute

The Books I Picked & Why

The Book of Tea

By Kakuzo Okakura

The Book of Tea

Why this book?

Okakura links Taoist and Zen philosophy to the tangible world by way of the aesthetics of tea, which are actually the aesthetics of life itself.  The title of this slim volume is disarmingly understated, then. It is the most approachable book on aesthetics I know.


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The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight Into Beauty

By Soetsu Yanagi

The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight Into Beauty

Why this book?

Yanagi argues that wabi and sabi are actually expressions of shibusa, and finds the essence of all three in directness and authenticity. Despite Elizabeth Gordon devoting two entire issues of House Beautiful to shibui in 1960, it remains largely overlooked today.


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In Praise of Shadows

By Jun'ichiro Tanizaki

In Praise of Shadows

Why this book?

Like The Book of Tea, In Praise appears to be a straightforward lament over the rapid loss of traditional values in modernizing Japan, but it repays multiple re-reading. On closer reading it is found to reflect the "both and" sentiment common in early 20th century Japan and summed up in the term wakon yosai, "Japanese spirit Western learning."


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Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden

By Teiji Itoh

Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden

Why this book?

This book was far ahead of its time in explaining the active manipulation of space and time in traditional Japanese gardens, from the diminutive tsuboniwa courtyard gardens that transported the city dweller to the heart of the wilderness, to the temple gardens that procured remote features of the natural landscape.


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Wabi, Sabi, Suki: The Essence of Japanese Beauty

By Teiji Itoh, Ikko Tanaka, Tsune Sesoko

Wabi, Sabi, Suki: The Essence of Japanese Beauty

Why this book?

This beautifully illustrated book is difficult to find now. The images effectively speak for themselves, however, and make up for the inevitable shortcomings of even the most informed attempts to sum up these concepts verbally.


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