Monthly Archives: January 2021

America’s Fascination with Japanese Aesthetics by Laura Miller

Scholars are fascinated with the ways in which Japanese culture is understood, borrowed, demonized, and represented outside Japan. One book on this topic is Meghan Warner Mettler’s How to Reach Japan by Subway: America’s Fascination with Japanese Culture, 1945-1965 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2018). Mettler discovered nuggets of original information that will appeal to Japan specialists and American historians alike. She looks at American interest in ikebana flower arrangement, Japanese art cinema, Zen Buddhism, Japanese gardening, and bonsai. One revelation was that the aesthetic concept of shibui (understated elegance) had been taken up by people in the U.S. in the 1960s. It has since disappeared, however. The more familiar concepts of sabi (simplicity, rustic beauty, unpretentiousness) and wabi (patina of age, appreciation of imperfection) have dominated the American imagination in the decades since and have dominated design circles. I loved that she found an article from a 1960 issue of the American magazine House Beautiful entitled “How to be Shibui with American Things.” Here is the cover.