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Nothing Lasts Forever

Time is kind to things, however not so kind to man.

By 2 min read

Recently I was looking through my nephew’s toys and I came across a stuffed toy mouse that used to be mine. His big eyes were slightly chipped from the numerous times I dropped him and the top of his head still hadn’t been repaired from all the times I used to bite it. I could have probably repaired that toy, but instead I put him back with his blemishes and all.

Oddly enough many Japanese designers would have understood my nostalgic attraction to my toy. In Japan there are many people who appreciate the attraction to these old things with memories. The architect Tadao Ando even recommends that houses should mostly contain ‘items that you both admire and love to use’ and ‘things that resonate with the spirit of their makers’ hands and hearts.’

One of the words for this love of the rustic is 寂 (Sabi). This word expresses the belief that even as things age, they become more interesting and gain character. Imagine something rusting away and the rust actually gives it character, or when silver gains blemishes that create patterns far more interesting than the original design.

Sometimes, of course, things do need repair, but even then a hastily repaired mug often has more character than a brand-new one. If you have ever noticed this, then you are probably thinking along the same lines as the 金繕い artists (kin-tsukuroi – literally gold repair).


When these craftsmen saw a smashed plate or bowl, instead of trying to repair it, they would often just fill in the cracks with a lacquer containing gold or silver. The result was a ceramic that kept its history, but gained an extra charm from being visibly repaired the valuable metals.

With spring coming up, a related concept is the idea of 物の哀れ (mono no aware). This feeling is the sensitivity to the transient nature of beauty. If you go out to see the cherry blossoms and feel an awareness that these beautiful blossoms will only last for a short time, you are feeling this idea.

A lot of this is also connected to the Buddhist influences on Japan as the religion teaches its followers not to get attached to material things because they soon disappear or change and that is a natural part of the process. ‘Time is kind to things,’ A Japanese proverb reminds us, ‘however not so kind to man.’

Living in Kansai, I am blessed to be close to Kyoto where you can do all of these things at once. The best places to enjoy these things are the silver pavilion in Kyoto which continues to age in the most awesome way imaginable (sabi); followed by a trip to see the cherry blossoms (mono no aware) and finally a visit to the antique stores on the nearby Tetsugaku-no-michi where you will see kin-tsukuroi wares.

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