Japanisme Revisited in Kokedama and Wabi-Sabi

wabi-sabi kokedamaIf you studied art or paid attention in history class, you may remember how profoundly Japan influenced other cultures around the world. This fervor, known as Japonism, or Japonisme in French, dates back to the mid-nineteenth century.

Trade with Japan, closed to the world in the 1600s, was reopened at that time, creating a fervor for all things Japanese beginning in France and spreading to the United States soon thereafter. Writing, painting, sculpture, design, architecture and music were all impacted, as Japanese creations were circulated and appreciated.

Popular Japanese motifs, such as bridges, fans, parasols, cranes, and bamboo found their way into Western art and a wide range of everyday items.

Recently, two garden design trends have come to the forefront on the heels of the popularity of houseplants and a renewed interest in biophilia. On trend prediction lists in the U.S. for a few years now and termed a “craze” in France and Germany in 2013, are “kokedama” and the concept of “wabi-sabi” garden design.

This interest in “East meets West” design appears to be part of a Japonisme revival which goes back a little further starting about ten years ago. Marrying attention to small details, textures from nature, and modern simplicity, architects and interior designers were the ones initially leading this most recent Japonisme revival.

Kokedama style

Whether sitting in a saucer or suspended from the ceiling on a strand of twine, these planted “moss balls” are certain to grab attention. Based on a “no pot” Japanese bonsai technique, the roots of a plant are wrapped in compacted clay-rich soil and sheet moss. The exterior of the ball may then be wrapped in string or twine, if desired. Multiple moss orbs can be very striking when grouped and hung staggered and in varying sizes.

wabi-sabi moss balls no pots

Many plants are suitable for kokedama, including ferns, most houseplants, cacti, and even flowering trees. Kokedama are relatively trouble-free, but care varies depending upon the type of plant selected. Watering usually involves soaking in a bowl, bucket, or sink, or misting.

Although the point of kokedama is having no pot, those that are not suspended do require a saucer or pedestal of some kind to catch run off.

Wabi-Sabi say what?

It’s fair to say that many homeowners have always embraced the ideals of wabi-sabi, as it venerates that which is worn, rustic and “unfinished”. Both a design aesthetic and a Zen Buddhist mindset, wabi-sabi designs are starting to make the rounds at larger garden shows. Wabi-sabi also made a home decor trend list at Etsy.com this year, along with garnering a few snarky comments in some popular magazines.

wabi-sabi unfinished wood

Wabi-sabi celebrates imperfection and weathered wood, chippy paint, and lush but unmanicured landscaping fit right in. Some wabi-sabi garden designs have a distinctly Japanese look, but many are reminiscent of well-loved farm American homesteads or English cottage gardens.

wabi-sabi- english cottage garden

More information about this aesthetic and philosophy may be found in the 1994 book by Leonard Koren entitled, Wabi-Sabi: For Artists, Designers, Poets, & Philosophers.

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