Thursday, December 1, 2011

What does Shibumi mean?
Shibui (渋い) (adjective), shibumi (渋み) (noun), or shibusa (渋さ) (noun) are Japanese words which refer to a particular aesthetic of simple, subtle, and unobtrusive beauty. Like other Japanese aesthetic terms, such as iki and wabi-sabi, shibui can apply to a wide variety of subjects, not just art or fashion.

Shibumi is a Japanese word that means 'effortless perfection'. Anything that is Shibumi is quiet in refinement, noble and fulfilling in a manner that is not shaped exclusively by analytical thought.

In Japanese culture, Shibumi implies 'a simplicity of spirit; an attitude of refinement without pretension, honesty without apology, beauty without artifice. Western mystics try to attain or achieve a state of inner peace, but shibumi must be found, not won.'

Shibumi is understanding rather than knowledge, it is harmony in action. In art, it is understated beauty, articulate brevity. In philosophy, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming.

The kanji or character for shibumi has many meanings. The term may describe the subtle and elegant patterns of a fine kimono. Or the effortless grace of a bird in flight. A shibumi flower arrangement brings into being coolness during a scorching summertime and sunshine on a frigid day It may describe an action done with effortless perfection.

Shibumi is a Japanese concept that suggests complete harmony, tranquility, and balance. It is "eloquent silence" and "understanding, rather than knowledge."

The following excerpt is from Shibumi by Trevanian. Published by The Ballantine Books, New York. Copyright C 1979 by Trevanian.,204,203,200_.jpg
". . . Tell me, Nikko. Will you miss Shanghai?"
Nicholai considered for a second. "No."

"Will you feel lonely in Japan?"

Nicholai considered for a second. "Yes."

"I shall write to you."


"No, not often. Once a month. But you must write to me as often as you feel the need to. Perhaps you will be less lonely than you fear. There are other young people studying with Otake-san. And when you have doubts, ideas, questions, you will find Otake-san a valuable person to discuss them with. He will listen with interest, but will not burden you with advice." The General smiled. "Although I think you may find one of my friend's habits of speech a little disconcerting at times. He speaks of everything in terms of Go. All of life, for him, is a simplified paradigm of Go".

"He sounds as though I shall like him, sir."

"I am sure you will. He is a man who has all my respect. He possesses a quality of . . . how to express it? . . . of shibumi."

"Shibumi, sir?" Nicholai knew the word, but only as it applied to gardens or architecture, where it connoted an understated beauty. "How are you using the term, sir?"

"Oh, vaguely. And incorrectly, I suspect. A blundering attempt to describe an ineffable quality. As you know, shibumi has to do with great refinement underlying commonplace appearances. It is a statement so correct that it does not have to be bold, so poignant it does not have to be pretty, so true it does not have to be real. Shibumi is understanding, rather than knowledge. Eloquent silence. In demeanor, it is modesty without pudency. In art, where the spirit of shibumi takes the form of sabi, it is elegant simplicity, articulate brevity. In philosophy, where shibumi emerges as wabi, it is spiritual tranquility that is not passive; it is being without the angst of becoming. And in the personality of a man, it is . . . how does one say it? Authority without domination? Something like that."

Nicholai's imagination was galvanized by the concept of shibumi. No other ideal had ever touched him so. "How does one achieve this shibumi, sir?"

"One does not achieve it, one . . . discovers it. And only a few men of infinite refinement ever do that. Men like my friend Otake-san."

"Meaning that one must learn a great deal to arrive at shibumi?"

"Meaning, rather, that one must pass through knowledge and arrive at simplicity."

From that moment, Nicholai's primary goal in life was to become a man of shibumi; a personality of overwhelming calm. It was a vocation open to him while, for reasons of breeding, education, and temperament, most vocations were closed. In pursuit of shibumi he could excel invisibly, without attracting the attention and vengeance of the tyrannical masses.

Kishikawa-san took from beneath the tea table a small sandalwood box wrapped in plain cloth and put it into Nicholai's hands. "It is a farewell gift, Nikko. A trifle."

Nicholai bowed his head in acceptance and held the package with great tenderness; he did not express his gratitude in inadequate words. This was his first conscious act of shibumi.

Although they spoke late into their last night together about what shibumi meant and might mean, in the deepest essential they did not understand one another. To the General, shibumi was a kind of submission; to Nicholai, it was a kind of power.

Both were captives of their generations.


  1. I am currently reading the book Shibumi and seldom, if ever, have I been held quite so captive by any reading matter!!

  2. My children attend an equestrian centre in the Highlands of NSW, Australia, known as Shibumi, and no word could best describe the peace, excellence, simplicity, calm that one feels on entering the beautiful grounds with its horses and equestrian endeavours. Great word!! Great choice of name for the equestrian complex.

  3. I've read Shibumi. And it was by far one of the most inspirational books I have ever read, besides the bible. I strive to find that same peace and inner glow (if you will).

    1. One cannot strive for Shibumi. It is an arrival without a preceding departure. Much like faith, it cannot be discovered, only prepared for. It is both the water and the current in the stream. It is being without becoming. There is no transition or transport in Shibumi.

  4. I remembered shibumi as meaning all perfection must include a flaw. Is there such a word?

  5. On waking this morning the word 'shibumi' was at the forefront of my mind. I googled the word and was led here. What a gift. I had gone to sleep very excited at finding a way of expressing my creativity, a search I have been on for months. Browsing Pinterest I came across an idea that has my head spinning with designs involving 'sashiko' stitching. Awaking with 'shibumi' in my mind seems to be telling me the outcome is assured. Thank you universe. Effortless perfection.

  6. I heard the word today and wanted to know what it means. You have explained it in such a beautiful way that I feel like I am experiencing Shibumi. Thank you.

  7. The answer for our troubled world

  8. Shibumi is by far the best of four excellent books written under the pen name, Trevanian. I reread it every five years. The hero is an intellectual James Bond. My resolve is to become a "Man of Shibumi -- a person of overwhelming calm." It is a worthy but unreachable goal. I articulated the goal first in the context of options trading -- a venture governed by laws of probability. There is no guaranteed individual outcome -- only a probability of long term success by following a well conceived trading plan. Neither celebrate effusively wins; nor grieve excessively over losses. Follow the tao of your plan; learn from your mistakes; and use failures as a means to discover a better tao.

  9. Bonsai tree. Understated excellence. Understated refinement. Shibumi.