Wabi-sabi is a beautiful Japanese concept that has no direct translation in English. Both an aesthetic and a worldview, it connotes a way of living that finds beauty in imperfection and accepts the natural cycle of growth and decay. Wabi Sabi is also the title of a fantastic 2008 picture book by Mark Reibstein, with original artwork by acclaimed Chinese children’s book illustrator Ed Young, exploring this wonderful sensibility through the story of a cat who gets lost in her hometown of Kyoto only to find herself in the process.
The book reads like a scroll, from top to bottom, and features a haiku and a Japanese verse on each spread, adorned with Young’s beautifully textured artwork.
A true wabi-sabi story lies behind the book: When Young first received the assignment, he created a series of beautifully simple images. As he went to drop them off with his editor, he left them for a moment on the front porch of the house. But when he returned to retrieve them, they were gone. Rather than agonizing over the loss, Young resolved to recreate the images from scratch and make them better — finding growth in loss.
While technically a children’s book, Wabi Sabi is the kind of subtle existential reflection adults, with our relentless aspiration for more and our chronic anxiety about imperfection, could take solace in. (A recurring theme this week as we unravel our relationship with imperfection.)