The best books on Japanese aesthetics

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

Who am I?

I've spent the last three decades thinking about Japanese aesthetics, and in particular if and how they can be meaningfully used beyond Japan. I'm the author of several books on the subject: Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan, Place Time and Being in Japanese Architecture, This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual, and most recently, The Constructed Other: Japanese Architecture in the Western Mind. I teach about Asian Pacific architecture at the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa.


I wrote...

This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual

By Kevin Nute,

Book cover of This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual

What is my book about?

This is the first book to analyze Japanese architecture from a phenomenological perspective, and to explain how buildings can be designed to help us both celebrate and overcome our individuality. It shows how buildings can not only serve as extensions of the body, to effectively help affirm what, where, and when we are, but can also enable us to share the normally subjective experiences of thishere and now with others.

The books I picked & why

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The Book of Tea

By Kakuzo Okakura,

Book cover of 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.


The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight Into Beauty

By Soetsu Yanagi,

Book cover of 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.

In Praise of Shadows

By Jun'ichiro Tanizaki,

Book cover of 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."


Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden

By Teiji Itoh,

Book cover of 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.


Wabi, Sabi, Suki: The Essence of Japanese Beauty

By Teiji Itoh (editor), Ikko Tanaka (editor), Tsune Sesoko (editor)

Book cover of 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.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in aesthetics, Japan, and tea?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about aesthetics, Japan, and tea.

Aesthetics Explore 29 books about aesthetics
Japan Explore 291 books about Japan
Tea Explore 19 books about tea

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Art of Looking Sideways, The Process: A New Foundation in Art and Design, and Sakuteiki: Visions of the Japanese Garden: A Modern Translation of Japan's Gardening Classic if you like this list.