The Art of Less is More: Japanese Minimalism and its influence on Western Design Aesthetics
A platter of sushi may not look that substantial – resembling a work of art more than something to be devoured – but in addition to being amazingly delicious, it’s also surprisingly filling. How could just a few of the most basic ingredients yield such an enormously satisfying (not to mention satiating) culinary experience? Well, sometimes less is more. Especially, if you subscribe to the Japanese art of minimalism. Here we’ll explore what Japanese minimalism is, what inspired it, and in what ways it has influenced design trends in the West.
What is Japanese Minimalism?
Thousands of years steeped in tradition have influenced Japan’s architecture and interior design aesthetic, resulting in the serene and uncluttered style, known to the rest of the world as Japanese minimalism. Inspired by the spartan aesthetic of Japan’s traditional Zen Buddhism, the minimalist movement goes against modern consumerism, keeping life simple and uncluttered by adhering to the bare essentials. Japanese aesthetics evolved around clean and uncluttered living, holding tightly to balance, ancient customs and a love for natural beauty. This simplicity of design and ascetic discipline of form has informed all aspects of traditional Japanese culture, art and lifestyle.
However, in the race to become a serious contender in the global market economy after WWII, Japan embraced capitalism, turning away from its history and traditions, while striving for and championing the excesses of Western cultures. It wasn’t until recently, as more and more young professionals in Japan yearned to reconnect with the simplicity and serenity of their cultural heritage, that the rest of the world became aware of the beauty and power of this traditional Japanese aesthetic.
How the movement has impacted the West?
Over the last several years Japanese minimalism has influenced various design trends in the West. Everything from interior design, fashion, lifestyle and cuisine has been impacted by the minimalist movement. One of the core tenets of Japanese minimalism that is evident in all areas that have felt its influence is the idea that less is more.
Western interior design trends have latched onto Japanese minimalism in recent years. This style is epitomised by simplicity of form and function with open, light-filled spaces. A key aspect of minimalist interior design is harmonising with and reflecting nature through the use of natural elements, such as wood. Wood flooring keeps things simplified and streamlined; the natural texture of wood also adds warmth to living spaces. In addition to wood, other natural elements are incorporated, including plants and trees.
Using a neutral colour palette, with beige, brown, ivory, taupe, black, grey and varying shades of white, furniture and decorations are kept to a bare minimum, focusing only on the essentials. As a result, minimalist homes have lots of space, often with a light and airy feel.
Japanese minimalist philosophy, as popularised by the likes of Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, is characterised by leading a happy, clutter-free life, unburdened by the trappings and stress of consumerism. Connecting with the ‘less is more’ philosophy, fewer possessions equals less clutter, which equals less stress, which equals more happiness and well-being.
The approach, championed by Kondo and other prominent advocates of lifestyle minimalism, is to essentially do away with all non-essentials – to live in a home that is streamlined and elegant, where there’s only room for the necessities and each one has its own place. As with other areas influenced by minimalism, there’s a beauty and elegance to be found in the ostensible austerity of this lifestyle. While this philosophy has been widespread among young professionals in Japan for years, it’s currently gaining momentum and popularity among younger generations in the West, as well.
If we applied the main foundations of Japanese aesthetic to the clothes we wear, the result would be comfortable clothing that’s also elegant and natural. Borrowing from the same neutral colour palette used in interior design, minimalist fashions are made from natural fabrics, such as cotton, wool or silk – nothing synthetic or overly processed.
As with all things adhering to this aesthetic, the defining principle with minimalist fashion is simplicity. In accordance with minimalist living, wardrobe choices should be streamlined to the bare essentials, with only a small selection of neutral colours and the bare minimum of outfits.
Minimalist cooking has recently been on trend, with an increasing number of Western blogs and cookery books devoted to the art. Adhering to the same principles of Japanese Minimalism, advocates for this style of cooking call for decluttering the kitchen, doing away with processed food, in favour of only fresh ingredients and opting for simple recipes that yield bold, unique flavours.
Of course, these are all things that Japanese chefs have known (and practiced) for centuries. Through using precise technique, fresh ingredients, minimal processing, and bold flavours, Japanese cuisine fully embodies the ideals of minimalism.