Excerpt: Untangling My Chopsticks

by Victoria Abbott Riccardi

Across from a new green-and-red Fuji film store sat a small restaurant in a decrepit old building offering dusty plastic models of tempura-topped rice bowls and fat rice-stuffed omelets belted with ketchup. The eatery appeared more distressing than appealing, at least on the surface.

The Japanese believe that beauty can reside in things that are rustic, withered, faded, simple, imperfect or incomplete. This aesthetic concept applies to people, as well as things, and stems from the words wabi and sabi. The spirit of wabi tends to be inward and subjective and often refers to a path or way of life, while sabi generally pertains to material objects, art literature, and external events. A monk living in self-imposed isolation in the woods, for example, embodies wabi because he coexists with nature in a state that is physically impoverished but rich in spirit. The restaurant with its dusty models had a sabi quality because, by being housed in a crumbling wooden building next to a modern business, it evoked the corroded elegance of another era, like an antique kimono in a closet of designer wear.

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