Subtract the distractions. Eliminate the frills. Omit the unnecessary. And you are left with an absence that resonates with the abundance of exactly. what. you. need.
This is Japanese minimalism. A philosophy that may be trending in our modern world today but takes its roots from Zen; a Japanese variant of traditional Chan Buddhism. When in practice, it is meditating on life at its most uncomplicated form, our inherent existence, and finding liberation in that simplicity.
In a design sense, it is a practice of the subtraction of aesthetics. And in this, we are brought closer to the limitless potential of a perfect line. The sensuality of a perfect curve. The inspiring vibration of a noiseless space.
This power in silence is what Japanese minimalists seek, even in fashion—choosing neutral coloured iconic pieces strong enough to stand alone, without the need of layered distractions. Think a black wool coat, a clean white-tee, beige ankle-length trousers. Symmetry. Order. Fundamentals. If it’s subtle and discreet, there is room for the voice and emotion of the individual.
“Minimalism is often used in the context of art, but minimalism in Japan is about expressing emotion”, says Naoki Takizawa the designer director of UNIQLO. “It does not have any form. It is unspoken”.
You can see this unspoken for space particularly in the interior design of Japanese minimalism. What is chosen to fill that space is only that of absolute necessity. Something of uncompromised value. A bed of white linen. A chair. A table.
Fumio Sasaki, a Japanese minimalist interviewed by CNN Insider, says there are only 150 items in his home, including twenty pairs of clothing, seven bottles of seasoning and one detergent to use for dishes, laundry and shampoo.
Inspired by the lightness and freedom of this lifestyle, many minimalists are inspired to engage in hobbies, travel, and visit friends. The energy that was once used to clean, shop, upkeep and replace things is now replaced with the freedom to do what they actually want to be doing.
“Reduce the complexity of life by eliminating the needless wants of life, and the labors of life reduce themselves.” Edwin Way Teale
And it’s that inspiration that makes Japanese minimalism an art of limitless mediums—from fashion, to interior design, to architecture, to the industrial design of your iPad, even. Steve Jobs was an admirer of simplicity. A lightweight rectangular screen with a circular controller. Again, just exactly what you need. Nothing more. Being a Zen Buddhist himself, Jobs and Japanese minimalism vibrated on a similar frequency. Jobs believed that life’s most important decisions were the ones you chose not to make, making the ones you choose to make as easy as simple subtraction.
According to his friend John Sculley, he chose to furnish his house with a picture of Einstein, an icon of great value to him, a Tiffany lamp, a chair and a bed. He chose to spend his time with the space he created for meditating at Tassajara, America’s first Zen monastery. And as a system designer, from the order of the placement of the hardware, to the external design of every Apple product—he chose to simplify complexity, making him one of the most recognised symbols of success.
But besides design, Japanese Minimalism is a philosophy, a practice. A practice of lifting the mental weight of not just the extra possessions and fussy embellishments, but all of which no longer serve you. Because in a western world designed to breed addicts of consumption, if there are two things we know, it’s the exhaustion of too much and the stress of not enough—and we lose ourselves in this.
This is where the East can teach the West.
In essence, Japanese minimalism shows that by reducing things down to the fundamental, you can begin to understand yourself better. Your values in life inhabit the space you’ve created, instead of the things.
And in this, there is freedom.