‘Zen in Japanese Culture’: An astute explainer of Japan’s spiritual aesthetics

Books that attempt to “clarify” Japanese tradition to others are inclined to fall into one in every of two camps. Both they attempt to money in on the newest zeitgeist, a fast repair for harassed Westerners in search of self-help with a veneer of the unique — Marie Kondo, ikigai (motive for dwelling) et al. — or they current superficial representations of otherness, thinly disguised Orientalism packaged as a espresso desk e book.

Zen in Japanese Tradition, by Gavin Blair.
208 pages

Gavin Blair fortunately plots a 3rd path in his wonderful e book. Attractive images of temples, gardens and organized flowers are current, however are justly there as an instance the purpose he’s making about how the spirit of Zen has infused Japanese aesthetics all through historical past. Blair’s somber however sprightly prose completely matches the subject material as he delves into calligraphy, origami and martial arts. His strategy avoids the pitfalls of cultural tourism and as a substitute enlightens points of Japanese tradition identified solely superficially by most. His excavation of wabi-sabi aesthetics — a touchstone right here — is, for as soon as, clear and concise.

The chapter specializing in how Zen aesthetics have translated into fashionable summary artwork is especially fascinating but additionally serves to spotlight a missed alternative, or maybe a query unanswered: How a lot is Zen nonetheless current in Reiwa Japan? The structure examined is conventional, the temples historic, the bonsai timeless. How about fashionable housing? Much less classical artwork varieties? Sport even?

This e book serves each as exculpatory introduction and a soothing, meditative information by Japanese aesthetics and, like all good books, suggests many paths for future examine.

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