4 Primary Essentials of Japanese Minimalist Design

Japan is notorious for their impressive take on minimalist design. We recognize Japanese Minimalist design when we see it, but what gives Japanese minimalism its well-known, iconic style?

Here are the 4 primary essentials of Japanese minimalism.

Modern minimalist living room using 4 primary essentials found in Japanese Minimalist design
Mid-century modern furniture in modern minimalist living room using 4 primary design essentials found in Japanese Minimalism

Wabi – Natural Simplicity

Wabi is natural and simple beauty. Imperfect beauty. Not flawless. Oftentimes, nature follows a structure but it is not perfect.

An example is a tree. A tree can be identified as a tree, even identified as a specific genus of tree, but not every tree will have the exact same number of branches, twists and turns of its leaves, or even the same outline once it has grown into a full-sized tree. This is depicted in Japanese minimalist design with one-of-kind versions of decor added into the overall scheme using textured and multi-colored pottery, such as ikebana vases.

Shibui – Subtle Modesty

Shibui is subtle and modest beauty. Lavish, ornate, or vibrantly colorful is not shibui. Neutral colors, simple shapes, bold clean lines, and practical functionality in Japanese minimalism follows the essential design principle of shibui. You will often find many Japanese-inspired designs use natural materials, such as wood, rice paper, husks, and straw.

Iki – Effortless Refinement

Iki is effortless and refined beauty. Focusing on what matters in a room design, instead of over compensating in a flashy and showy way. Iki is not extravagant or obviously, trying to make a statement. It simply is, and it is doing it well. An example is tossing your hair around before going out to an event. The natural way it falls, curls, curves and moves, looks better than sitting in the mirror with a curling iron for 2 hours perfecting each curl.

Now of course, part of the iki design principle is like having a great cut first though. If you have an ugly piece of furniture and you effortlessly place it in a corner of your room, it probably won’t look good no matter what. The refinement comes in when you find a piece of furniture that meets the standards and criteria of Japanese minimalist design beforehand.

Danshari – Excess Removal

Danshari is removing excess to create beauty. This is a both a design principle and a practice. By decluttering, you can create more space. This space leaves room to appreciate the things you do have. Danshair really brings home the age-old minimalist perspective of “less is more.”

An example of this is running water. Most of us live with clean, running water at our disposal anytime we want. If we no longer had clean, running water, we would notice when we do, and appreciate it more. Now imagine this idea with having 4 sinks in our home and no running water. They take up a lot of space and they serve no purpose. However, if we have 4 sinks with running water, and we never shut them off, we have an overflow of water.

Danshari is also about having balance. How do we achieve this? Imagine having those 4 sinks with running water, one in each specific room that it is needed. We turn them on and we shut them off, only using them when needed. All of a sudden the sinks are no longer taking up room and we notice the convenience they bring to us.

Wabi, Shibui, Iki, and Danshari are the 4 primary essential principles in Japanese minimalism. Now you can apply these concepts along with both traditional and Japanese-inspired minimalist furniture. For Japanese-inspired furniture, here are some to get you started: Modular Tandem Seating Bench, the Sloane Bed, or the Zen Reclining Table Lamp. All of these are sold by one of our favorite online modern furniture stores, Inmod.com. You can also find a myriad of Japanese-inspired decor and furnishings online at various other places.

Follow these 4 principles to master your next room or interior design project in a Japanese minimalist style!