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iki, an expression of simplicity

Ippitsusai Buncho of the actor Segawa Kikunojo

Ukiyo-e by Ippitsusai Buncho of the actor Segawa Kikunojo

Iki is a traditional aesthetic ideal in Japan.  Iki, having emerged from the worldly Japanese merchant class, may appear in some ways a more contemporary expression of Japanese aesthetics than concepts such as wabi-sabi.  The term is commonly used in conversation and writing, but is not necessarily exclusive of other categories of beauty.

Iki is an expression of simplicity, sophistication, spontaneity, and originality.  It is ephemeral, romantic, straight forward, measured, audacious, smart, and unselfconscious.

Iki is not overly refined, pretentious, complicated, showy, slick, coquettish, or, generally, cute.  At the same time, iki may exhibit any of those traits in a smart, direct, and unabashed manner.

Iki may signify a personal trait, or artificial phenomena exhibiting human will or consciousness.

Iki is not used to describe natural phenomena, but may be expressed in human appreciation of natural beauty, or in the nature of human beings. 

Murakami Haruki (b.1949), who writes in a clear, unflinching style–at turns sentimental, fantastic, and surreal–is described as embodying iki.  In contrast, Kawabata Yasunari (1899-1972) writes in a more poetic vein, with a closer focus on the interior “complex” of his characters, while situations and surroundings exhibit a kind of wabi-sabi.  That said, stylistic differences may tend to distract from a similar emotional subjectivity.  Indeed, iki is strongly tied to stylistic tendencies.

adapted from

Bamboo Digital Chime Clock, for a progressive awakening

Bamboo Digital Chime Clock, for a progressive awakening


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