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Shibumi: acerbic beauty of the aged face
  1. Wan Lin Teo
  1. TWL Medical Pte Ltd, Singapore
  1. Correspondence to Dr Wan Lin Teo, TWL Medical Pte Ltd, Singapore, Singapore; manager{at}

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The Japanese have a word which summarizes all the best in Japanese life, yet it has no explanation and cannot be translated. It is the word shibui, and the best approximation to its meaning is 'acerbic good taste'.—James A. Michener in Iberia

The austere beauty of lacquerware, the wizened lines and thickened trunk of a 100-year-old bonsai, the veiled beauty of murky jade—what do all these have in common? These are the qualities of shibumi, a Japanese aesthetic defined by the seven characteristics described by Dr Yanagi Soetsu1 in The Unknown Craftsman: simplicity, implicity, modesty, naturalness, everydayness, imperfection, silence.

Derived from the root word shibui, literally meaning ‘bitter’, the antonym of amai, for sweet—the etymology of shibusa encapsulates the jolting acerbity of one inadvertently sinking her teeth into an unripe persimmon; paradoxically described as a moment of inward transcendence. Quite distinct from wabi-sabi—while pottery and stoneware may be embraced for organic lines reflecting naturalness and imperfections as an aesthetic; within the distillation of shibumi, beyond the asymmetrical and flawed, lies an appreciation of ‘beauty with inner implications’ that ‘allows depth of feeling to be visible through spare surface design thereby manifesting the invisible core that …

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  • Contributors The author confirms sole responsibility for the following: study conception and design, data collection, analysis and interpretation of results, and manuscript preparation.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

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