For some incomprehensible reason I started thinking about the Nikkô shrine last night. I have never been there and know it only from photographs, but it has become for me a symbol of supreme tastelessness while being a much admired cultural monument at the same time.

From Nikkô my thoughts were led to the concepts hade and sabi. Nikkô is definitely hade, as are kabuki, geisha, and woodblock prints in my view. Hade is colourful, showy and loud, entertaining. Sabi represents the restrained and refined ideals usually associated with tea culture, haiku, etc. It is sober and quiet, not obviously attractive, an acquired taste. Sabi is much indebted to Buddhism, I think. I can't help seeing in it the 'just-so-ness' of Zen (which I tend to equate with tathatâ, 'suchness') and the Buddhist idea of impermanence, although not as a cause for suffering (duhkha), but as a source of aesthetic pleasure. Compared with hade, sabi is restful - unless one makes the un-sabi mistake of trying to outdo others in refinement - but at the same time demanding.

However, the distinction between the concepts is not as clear as it would seem from the above. In the 18th century urban chônin culture both hade and sabi became united in the concepts of iki and tsû, which are still valid ideals in Japan today. I think, however, that hade got the upper hand, especially in the arts; perhaps iki and tsû could be regarded as 'refined hade'? Ihara Saikaku's popular stories reflected the taste of the chônin, yet I see the film 'The Diary of Oharu' based on one of them as pure sabi. It would also be easy to classify as sabi in comparison to kabuki, although both were originally entertainment in the same tradition. And how to classify gagaku, the ancient and truly weird music genre? It may be too old for the distinction to apply.

And me? I have neither the peace of mind needed to appreciate sabi nor the flair to be iki. Am I just a boorish peasant, then?