Extract from Japanese Style at Home by Olivia Bays, Cathelijne Nuijsink, and Tony Seddon. Published by Thames and Hudson as part of their ‘At Home’ series which offers room-by-room guides for a simple, inspirational way to design your own home.
Understanding Japanese Style?
To understand Japanese style, you could do a lot worse than starting with one word: Zen. Brought from China to Japan in the 12th Century, Zen Buddhism’s guiding principles extend to all aspects of Japanese life, including design. Zen philosophy wets out seven elements for achieving wabi-sabi, the distinctly Japanese art of embracing the imperfect and impermanent. They include: asymmetry or irregularity (fukinsei); simplicity (kanso); naturalness without pretense (shizen); and a focus only on the essential (koko).
The roots of Japanese minimalism can be traced back to the mantra of zen, ‘vast emptiness, nothing holy’. The result is a mindful approach to design, involving disciplined editing and an awareness of the importance of space. Interiors are deliberately simple yet enriched by detail; craftsmanship is honoured but natural materials are emphasized over design. Japanese design epitomizes Mies van Rohe’s famous dictum, ‘Less is more’ - or, as architecture professor Michael Monninger puts it, ‘more with less’.
Traditionally, Japanese houses tend to have a flexibility to them, to feel somehow light. Their floor plans are open and flowing, merging indoor and outdoor spaces. The contain minimal furniture and decoration that can be used for different things at different times. This evolved partly as a practical response to Japan’s geographical and historical context: as a country prone to earthquakes and with limited space and a large population, the Japanese have long been used to living agilely and compactly. It can also be seen as arising from Japan’s Buddhist roots and the sense hat life is transient and fleeting.
Contemporary Japanese interiors often display a balance between, or attempt to reconcile, the contrasting elements of the Japanese character: traditional and modern, East and West, playful and serious, loud and quiet. What unifies them above all else is the appreciation of and connection to nature, to the rhythm of the seasons and the passing of time.
Japanese Style at Home by Olivia Bays, Cathelijne Nuijsink, and Tony Seddon.