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A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  250 ratings  ·  23 reviews
This provocative book is a tractate—a treatise—on beauty in Japanese art, written in the manner of a zuihitsu, a free-ranging assortment of ideas that “follow the brush” wherever it leads. Donald Richie looks at how perceptual values in Japan were drawn from raw nature and then modified by elegant expressions of class and taste. He explains aesthetic concepts like wabi, sa ...more
Paperback, 80 pages
Published July 1st 2007 by Stone Bridge Press (first published May 1st 2007)
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As Richie explains in his preface, he has deliberately chosen to write A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics as a zuihitsu , the form in which many influential Japanese chose to address aesthetic matters. Such an essay is not logically organized, not linear, not deductive. The author is supposed to "follow the brush" (I suppose we must say follow the pen, though, now, are we to follow the keyboard?), follow his thoughts as they arise. To heighten this, for him necessary, nonlinearity, he juxtapos ...more
Alex Pler
Apr 13, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Texto breve que consigue profundizar en conceptos de la estética japonesa que llegaron a convertirse en una forma de vida para artistas, artesanos y poetas: fûryu, shibui, wabi y sabi, yûgen, aware, iki... Un buen punto de partida.
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Nocciolo duro dei termini che indicano (quando ciò è possibile) la forma e l'esperienza dell'estetica giapponese. Precisissimo e curato molto bene. ...more
Oct 08, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian-lit, philosophy
This is a useful book explaining what makes Japanese art, literature, and philosophy unique. Donald Richie has lived in Japan since the end of World War II and is responsible for a series of illuminating works, including an early survey on Japanese film. A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics is a short work with large implications:
Many people everywhere spend their whole lives trying to escape the thought that one day they and all of theirs will be no more. Only a few poets look at the fact, and onl
Justin Evans
Jul 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Richie claims to have written a zuihitsu; lots of high school students claim to have written haiku, as well, but, you know. They aren't Basho, and Richie is not Chomei. I'm not really the audience for this text, which feels very 'mystical East,' a feeling that is probably more about me than Richie, who obviously knows more about Japan than I will ever know; I'm just very sensitive (i.e., I object) to the idea that there is some impassible barrier between Japanese thinking and everyone else.

Mar 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Dealing with Japanese aesthetic terms in translations is difficult, because the Japanese terms in themselves can be ambiguous depending on the context. Richie in this brief book does an excellent job in explaining where each term fits in the spectrum in relation to others and the world it describes. An invaluable reference for wordsmiths dealing with the word in relation to Japan.
When seeking an introduction to an unfamiliar topic, I am wary of two types of books: the highly technical, impenetrable beasts dense with signs and meta-signs aimed at experts in a neighbouring field, and the colloquial, jokey-breezy anecdotal stories filled with mental candyfloss aimed as those seeking educational fairground entertainment. Once in a while, I find myself in either readership, but usually I seek a middle ground, and even then I require a particularly fortuitous opening into a su ...more
Keith Bouchard
May 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
"Taste is an indication of an aesthetically legitimate dominance. Hence its rules and regulations, its complications, and its numerous dicta to be observed."

"'Simplicity--this was something that Rikyu tried to teach his pupil, Hideyoshi, at hose "court" he was arbiter. One famous anecdote illustrates his method. Rikyu's garden of morning glories was known for its beauty. Hearing of it Hideyoshi demanded that he be invited to visit. So he was, but when eh arrived all the morning glories were no m
Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a rule, I dislike rating non-fiction books. This little work (70 small pages) is pocket-size, which is fine - it only claims to be a tractate. I read this with little knowledge/experience of Japanese aethetics. I have had several helpings of ancient Chinese aesthetics as well as all the Western stuff. So, I read this as a type of introduction/overview. As such, I am giving this four stars.

The author does not come across as one who wants to sound pretentious or supercilious. I do think he is g
Patrick McCoy
Donald Richie has always wrote elegantly about Japanese culture and in A Tractate On Japanese Aesthetics (2007), he looks at Japanese concepts of beauty. As a result, I found the analysis of concepts like wabi sabi, mono aware, sibui, and the others interesting. However, this slim volumes is more akin to an introduction-it is only 80 pages long and interspersed throughout the essay are inserts with parallel discussion about western aesthetics. Essentially it is a long essay rather than a book, t ...more
A quick but thoughtful look at Japanese aesthetics, conveniently compiled for people like myself who have no prior experience with the subject. While I didn't find the writing style of the essay itself to be as daring as some have described it, it was the ending that made me sit back and think for a while about Richie's words and wondering to what extent they are true. ...more
Jake Bell
Sep 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: asian-studies
Interesting comparisons between western aesthetics and the aesthetic discipline of Japan (or lack thereof) Not crazy in depth but a nice primer on concepts that will get one thinking about the difference in standards of taste and beauty between the east and the west
Karl Hallbjörnsson
Aug 11, 2017 rated it liked it
A very informative book on the japanese conception of aesthetics. Recommended to anyone interested.
Bernardo Kaiser
Jun 13, 2017 rated it it was ok
Just a plain glossary which concludes that japanese aesthetics is dead. Japanesa cinema never existed, it seems. You could do better with wikipedia.
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Near vertical learning curve but many fascinating ideas and implications.
Arjun Ravichandran
May 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Not really a 'book', more of a free-flowing essay on the peculiar nature of the Japanese aesthetic sense. I had been interested in how the Japanese view beauty, because I found that some of their concepts(iki, wabi-sabi etc) accorded to omething close to my own tastes, and was eager to find out more. On that account, the book did not disappoint. The author (an expat living and observing Japanese life for more than 50 years) has a good grasp of the subtlety of the Japanese mind, and brings it out ...more
Jul 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
I wish it had been a little longer; I would have liked a bit more information on some of the concepts. Also, pictures!!! If you are describing a special ceramic tea caddy with the glaze dripping down it just so, PLEASE include a photo so I can see what you are talking about. So this book could really have used a few pictures to show some of the concepts. Other than that, I found this a great intro to a subject that I am not familiar with, and his theory of the Japanese people internalizing aesth ...more
May 31, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: art, japan
Turns out seventeenth-century tea masters were the original hipsters, elevating the old and ordinary to a refined aesthetic (complicated simplicity). Of course Japan has compartmentalized and codified aesthetics to an extreme (unique?) level -- this essay also reminds us that these concepts have complex histories, in which they were redefined and repurposed to suit elite political and class distinctions. It was an interesting but not inspiring read.
Richard Anderson
Oct 09, 2016 rated it really liked it
I liked it a lot, yet it seemed like the outline of a larger work.
Mar 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Brief but eminently readable - highly recommended
Jake Staples
Jan 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
brief but with a good outlining of components of the Japanese aesthetic.
Sep 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Wonderful reading and worth every minute spent on it.
Nov 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
More of a glossary and even so, not remotely extensive nor focused and definitely not an engaging one. This isn't Tanikazi waxing poetic (though nationalistic) about toilets... ...more
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Donald Richie is an American-born author who has written about the Japanese people and Japanese cinema. Although he considers himself only a writer, Richie has directed many experimental films, the first when he was 17. Although Richie speaks Japanese fluently, he can neither read nor write it.

During World War II, he served aboard Liberty ships as a purser and medical officer. By then he had alrea

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