Beauty in Frugality

I've just spent the last couple of hours immersed in a glossy high-end magazine from Japan: Kateigaho International Edition. In refreshing contrast to the glossy high-end brochure I had trouble with in the last post, this issue of KIE delves deeply into the aesthetic of frugality and speaks eloquently about the beauty of reuse and repair and how connected these concepts are to Japanese culture. No fashionable flash in the pan, the Japanese appreciation of wabi sabi, mingei (folk art) and mottainai (respect for all things, using them so nothing is lost or wasted in the course of an object's existence) flows from spiritual belief imbued in daily life.

There is a great array of articles on sakiori, the art of weaving with rags; hishizashi, a form of counted thread embroidery; boro cloth; patchwork; and wood, paper and ceramic crafts.

Shimatsu, a Kyoto dialect word for frugality, is written with the characters for "beginning" and "end", indicating an attitude of careful consideration from start to finish.

This handbag is made from the persimmon cured cloth used to strain the lees in sake-making. The fabric becomes like leather over its years of use.

Worn out socks and t-shirts are stitched with sashiko and used as dustrags. Think of how the relationship with an object you are dusting would change if the chore was carried out with a hand stitched cloth. It might transform from drudgery into an act of devotion.

Kintsugi is the art of repairing broken ceramics with lacquer and gold dust. The text includes a quote from gallery owner Kazuya Kuroda:
One suspects that this mending of broken vessels, then using and loving them, speaks to a certain sense of beauty that is peculiar to Japan.

None of this comes cheap, of course. People at the lower end of the income scale, ironically, can't afford rag rugs and mended pottery. But somehow, appreciation of the aesthetic of frugality seems authentic to Japanese culture whereas it seems a world away from the faux pauvre Eurostyle of Roche-Bobois.

KIE is often available at news stands and magazine shops that carry international publications. If you can find a copy of this edition (#28), it is well worth the investment. Also featured are articles on Jeffrey Montgomery's incredible (and well-used) collection of mingei, organic farming in Japan, and some yummy recipes.
(Thanks to my dear friend Jean-Pierre for sending me my copy.)


  1. Fantastic magazine! I have a copy out from my library a few weeks ago. I love the kakishibu bag. I bought a couple of the pre-made back from Japan. Lot of ideas to use it when the time come - Hugs Nat

  2. Coincidentally, when I checked over at Sri Threads, the posting was about his new show, Called "Mottainai, The Fabric of Life. It's on in Portland for the month of November.

  3. Marvellous! Thank you for sharing. There's so much inspiration in this.

  4. Anonymous4:21 PM

    oh, oh I have a standing order for Kateigaho at my local book store but it isn't in yet. Can't wait. Did you see on the Sri Threads posting that there will be a catalogue available?

  5. beautiful. i must try to find this mag while i'm in the city.

    i've made handknit dishrags and they do enhance my dish-drying experience. i've seen handknit dishrags made from handspun coloured organic cotton, and i'd love to make one, but then i fear i'd find it too precious to use.

    handwork upends the system of value in so many ways..

  6. There's a long, very good article here:
    Craft Unbound: Making the Common Precious

  7. That handbag is beyond lovely!! I just keep staring at it... thinking of its first life with the sake... wild!


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