⟨ Wabi Sabi ⟩

Releasing A Tasteful Essence

The basis of Japanese aesthetics

Words & Photography / 林琪香
走到京都河原町一帶的某家店選皮鞋,店員前來接待,看了看我腳上的短靴,驚歎地說:「你的靴子『出了很好的味道』呢。」我的短靴已穿了近十年,皮革因沾過雨水與泥土早就變色了,皮膚倒是越老越柔軟,貼貼服服地包裹在我的腳上,它不是特別精致的鞋子,只是時間讓它美麗了。

「出來了好味道」,日文唸作いい味ができてくる(ii aji ga dekidekuru),在日本的普遍美學裡,物品如高湯,都要花時間熬過,才會釋出溫和而鮮美的味道來。日本不少老工藝品店,都愛用黃銅來造生活器物,例如京都著名老店開化堂造的茶筒、東屋的水煲辻和金網的咖啡瀘網等等。簇新時的金黃,經過時間的歷練後漸漸化為深淺不一的棕色,勾劃出其身處的環境、經歷過的種種。人手能造出物件的形態,卻模仿不出時間為其添上的味道。

日本還有「養茶壼」的說法,新買回來的茶壼發著亮光,初生之犢太過耀眼,與其他器物共處時無法融和,於是正式使用前得先好好調養。養,其實就是反覆地使用,以將它的氣質調至和諧為目的,不斷不斷地用它泡茶,直到茶的色澤都滲進其中,帶點蒼桑,才顯得深著穩重。

侘寂中的「寂」,本意是物件在長年累月後老化,然而,在它們老化的痕跡裡,人們能夠感受到觸摸不到的時間河流,並為之婉惜、為之悸動,這豐富了物品的內容特質。事物蘊含的本質流滲至表面來,化為肉眼看得見的美,這便是今天「寂」最重要的意義。

When picking a new pair of shoes in a shop in Kawaramachi Kyoto, a shopkeeper approached and praised the ankle boots I was wearing for its “tasteful essence released”. For almost 10 years I had been wearing this pair of boots, the colour of the leather has obviously been washed down by rain and mud; its texture, however, becomes softer while aging. Time has beautified my humble-looking shoes, and has turned them into a comfortable layer of leather wrapping my feet.

いい味ができてくる (pronunciation: ii aji ga dekidekuru) is the original Japanese phrase for “releasing a tasteful essence”. Like dashi that takes time to become a tasty broth, the idea of how time can produce a mild yet rich character can well explain the basis of Japanese aesthetics in general. Such story can best be told by many traditional Japanese craft stores that produce utensils from brass. For example the tea cans from Kaikado, a famous shop in Kyoto that has a long history, the kettles from Adumaya and coffee sieve from Tujiwa Kanaami. The original golden colour of brass slowly fades into different shades of brown from being used over a long time period. Even if the material is the same, colour on each piece of utensil turns out to be different, just like every utensil has its own story and experience. Although human can shape raw materials into different objects, the unique trace an object gains from time is an element human can never alter or reproduce.

Nurturing teapot is a habit practised by many Japanese. A brand new teapot is always too shiny and flashy to come into a harmony with other existing utensils, therefore it has to be used repeatedly until the colour of tea is nicely infiltrated into the pot. Only a teapot that is aged by brewing tea is a decent utensil.

“Sabi” from wabi-sabi originally means the natural aging process of any object, as a tangible trace of the intangible flow of time. This is exactly the reason why some objects with rich history can genuinely touch and move people’s hearts. How objects actualize the usually overlooked beauty of time is precisely the important meaning of Sabi.