Beautiful Concepts from Japanese Philosophy That Will Enrich Your Everyday Life3 min read

In recent years, there seems to have been an explosion of interest in concepts from Japanese philosophy. Concepts that can change one’s attitude towards life, and that everyone can apply in everyday life. It might seem like a fad, and perhaps it is, but hey: maybe that’s not a bad thing at all. I do believe there is always something you can learn from a worldview that is different from your own.

While these concepts may not completely revolutionize your everyday life, they could give you that one insight you needed to turn some things around. Philosophy can do that for you, once you realise the power of your thoughts. Here are six beautiful concepts from Japanese philosophy that will enrich your everyday life.

Six Beautiful Concepts from Japanese Philosophy

Beautiful concepts from Japanese philosophy: forest bathing is beneficial to your health.

Shinrin Yoku: The Art of Forest Bathing

I recently read several articles that discussed some very interesting research results. It turns out that natural environments, or even just pictures of nature, can be very beneficial to your overall health. Moreover, people that live near forests or other wooded spaces generally have healthier brains1.

To be honest, I think most of us intuitively knew about this already. There’s even a name for the art of ‘forest bathing’ in Japanese philosophy: ‘shinrin yoku‘. It’s a form of nature therapy that prescribes regular walks outdoors, preferably in parks or forests. Clearly, escaping the urban jungle once in a while is vital for staying in a good physical and mental condition.

Kintsugi is the art of embracing your scars and broken pieces

Kintsugi: The Art of Golden Repair

Another concept from Japanese philosophy, or more so a centuries-old tradition, is the art of ‘kintsugi‘ or ‘golden repair’. Kintsugi describes the method of repairing broken pottery with a special, golden or silver lacquer. The seams of the broken pieces are reconnected, and the result is a beautiful object that wears its unique ‘scars’ with pride.

Instead of hiding its history, the breaks and fractures are emphasized and celebrated. The lesson we can learn from this practice is clear: embrace the unique and enriching experiences you go through in life, regardless of whether they’re good or bad, and treasure your mistakes as you age.

A historic library in South Tyrol, Italy

Tsundoku: The Art of Buying a Book and Never Reading it

I can’t imagine there is anyone among us who hasn’t accidentally practiced this peculiar art: buying a book, putting it away for later and never actually reading it. To be more precise, the term ‘tsundoku‘ describes the habit of letting books pile up at home without finishing any of them. Interestingly, the concept doesn’t carry any negative vibes in Japanese culture. You don’t always have to completely finish everything you start. There is something exciting, almost magical about having so many stories to look forward to. They are just waiting for you to discover the imaginary worlds within.

A man looks into another direction, but behind him is a misty cloud hanging over the bridge.

Yuugen: The Art of Noticing the Unseen

There are three ideals that form the traditional understanding of Japanese aesthetics: ‘wabi’ (temporary and intense beauty), ‘sabi’ (the beauty of aging and slow transformation), and ‘yuugen‘: the beauty of subtlety and elusiveness. This concept essentially describes the art of noticing the little things that often go unseen, or usually don’t catch your eye.

I think it’s like learning to read between the lines and finding a whole other layer of meaning and beauty. Playwright Zeami described it as the “subtle shadows of bamboo on bamboo”, but it could be so many types of moments. Another example is when you see birds fly away and disappear behind a cloud. You can still treasure the fact that you know they are still somewhere in the sky.

A girl walks on a wooden boardwalk that floats above a lake

Ikigai: The Art of Defining Your Own Meaning

The term ‘ikigai‘ has recently become one of the most popular Japanese concepts in the West. It loosely translates into ‘a reason for being’ and revolves around the art of defining your own meaning in life. Usually, this inward journey requires a lot of patience and time before you find this sense of ‘purpose’ within yourself. It’s about establishing a balance between the things you are passionate about, something the world needs (no matter how small or big), the things you are good at, as well as the feasibility of financial scenarios.

A woman with a black umbrella looks at a pair having a picnic underneath pink cherry trees

Oubaitori: The Art of Never Comparing Yourself

Then, finally, there is ‘oubaitori‘: the art of never comparing yourself to others. The term includes the kanji characters from the four iconic trees that all flower in the spring season: the cherry, plum, peach and apricot. They bloom alongside each other, but all in such different manners. That’s why the concept of oubaitori is also so complimentary to ikigai: it’s all about taking the time to assess your own unique character traits and capabilities.

Comparing your own endeavors and skills to someone else is pointless. Why? Because finding your own value is all about spending time on your own unique story, while still understanding your connection to others.

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  1. Source: Pacific Standard

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