Living the Japanese Art of Shibumi

After reviewing Leo Babauta’s recommended fiction reading list at, I read Travanian’s spy thriller, Shibumi.  Although a fun read, I was most struck by the novel’s treatment of the Japanese concept of shibumi and how we all, in our hectic busy lives, could benefit from practicing this art a bit more.

 Wikipedia defines shibumi as a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty.  The person of shibusa* modesty exalts excellence by taking time to learn, watch, read, understand, develop and think, merging these actions into an understatement and silence concerning oneself. 

In the novel, Trevanian describes the concept further, in more poetic detail.  He writes:

 Shibumi is a statement so correct it does not have to be bold; so poignant it doesn’t have to be pretty, so true it doesn’t have to be real.  Shibumi is understanding rather than knowledge.  Shibumi is eloquent silence.  In demeanor, it is modesty without pudency.**  In art, it is eloquent simplicity, articulate brevity.  In philosophy, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming.  In a personality, it is authority without domination.  One does not achieve shibumi, one discovers it.  One must pass through knowledge and arrive at simplicity.

 In our age of polarization and distraction the stillness, receptiveness and tranquility that the concept of Shibumi evokes is more than attractive, it is necessary to rebalance our inner lives and to make space for growth.  Today, and every day, try to find a moment to be still and quiet in order to reflect and to listen.  The world will speak to you and whether what you hear is humble or awe-inspiring, you will be better and happier for having listened.


 * the adjective form of the word.

** pudency is defined as feeling ashamed.