Mottainai – the end of unnecessary waste

The word Mottainai is another of these Japanese words that is good to know. It gets into the dictionary of more and more people around the world thanks to the global environmental debate and the struggle to stop the negative climate change.

The meaning of the word Mottainai
“Mottainai” is about regret for something that has not been fully utilized.

You can use the word Mottainai when you want to say “Oh, what a waste!”.  When someone throws away food. When someone has a closet full of clothes they can’t even wear and buys more and more. When someone leaves water running for an unnecessarily long time. But also when someone doesn’t use their potential and wastes their time on unimportant things. All this is “Mottainai”.  Anything that could be useful but for some reason you have not used it right, all that is Mottainai.

It is the idea that everything has a purpose and it is important to try to make full use of things. This includes really everything – from meal on your plate up to your effort to do something.

Like almost all of these useful phrases, “Mottainai” refers to a historical Japanese culture and way of thinking that many Japanese retain to this day.

Mottainai is rooted in Japanese Buddhist philosophy, according to which we all should respect and feel great gratitude towards our world, our planet and all the resources it provides us.

According to some, Mottainai also has a connection with the Shinto beliefs – where even objects have their souls, and  should therefore be treated with respect. And the best way to show respect is not to waste them and use them properly.

Still, it cannot be said that the essence of the Mottainai idea is only Japanese. We all remember when we were kids and our parents would urge us at home to eat all the food on our plates and not waste it. Just like when they told us in our teenage years not to waste our time and abilities.

Mottainai and environmental protection

In the context of the environment, Mottainai refers to the three groups of R + 1: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle + Respect ( in relation to Mother Nature as well as in relation to the natural resources it provides for us).

In the context of global environmental protection, the word Mottainai was probably first used by Kenyan Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai.

“Even at a personal level, we can all reduce, re-use and recycle, what is embraced as Mottainai in Japan, a concept that also calls us to express gratitude, to respect, and to avoid wastage.” (Wangari Maathai)

At the 2009 UN Climate Change Summit, she mentioned, among other things, that if we wanted to prevent wars arising from disputes over natural resources, we should all make efficient use of limited resources and share them fairly.

Mottainai approached the Japanese for economic reasons

How the spirit of Mottainai came to be through Japanese history? That’s not a very nice story.

Before Japan was first united under the Tokugawa (1603-1868), there was war everywhere. In the four-tiered social hierarchy of Japan, the Samurai naturally stood at the top, followed by farmers, then artisans, and then traders in the lower place.

However, during the Tokugawa regime, Japan enjoyed more than 200 years of peace. As a result, merchants gained increasing economic power and social influence. The Samurai, who remained ignorant of investment, soon became virtually out of power and traders became influencers in the Japanese economy. Traders helped promote the consumption and living standards of people in cities.

Meanwhile, the Samurai were the owners of Japan and the rulers of farmland and farmers. They collected harvested rice from farmers as a tax  and thus made a living (selling rice to make money). The trend of raising living standards was bad news for the Samurai, because if their farmers themselves exchanged their rice for money to buy things, that meant less rice to be paid as part of it for taxes.

The Samurai, who had not learned how to prosper financially in the new peace age, could only come up with the idea of spending less. They restricted or banned any form of luxury among farmers and encouraged a humble and modest lifestyle. To set an example for this lifestyle for others, the Samurai refrained from consuming too much food and hoarding things.

Thanks to propaganda, the humble way of life of the Samurai was recognized as a Japanese virtue and led to an even stronger establishment of the Mottainai spirit among the Japanese.

Mottainai and the present

Although the story of the origin of the Mottainai idea dates back to ancient and distant antiquity, this concept is now being re-awakened. Just for another purpose now. The Mottainai concept teaches us to value all resources. It teaches us to deal responsibly and creatively with what already exists, without the need for new and new production with high consumption of new resources.

We can all contribute a little to mitigating climate change by reducing consumption, refurbishing or renovating old equipment, recycling things that have ceased to serve us for their original purpose and, most importantly, respect for nature.

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Mushin – art of the empty mind / mind without mind


Although cultural differences around the world seem to be gradually diminishing thanks to the media, social networks and massive travel, they are certainly not being completely erased. Fortunately for us – a few decades of the Internet and the subsequent expansion of social networks cannot erase centuries to millennia of ancient different traditions, customs and philosophies. Although we see many young people in Asia comparing themselves to our Western culture, we Westerners still have a lot to inspire and learn from ancient Eastern philosophies.Buddha statue


One of these inspirational concepts is the Japanese term “mushin” – a fascinating form of meditation and mental state that can significantly affect the way a person lives and leads his life.

The word “mushin” consists of two kanji characters: 無 (mu), which means “emptiness,” and 心 (shin), which means “heart,” “spirit,” or in this case, “mind.” Mushin can be roughly translated to “nothing on the mind” or “no mind.” It comes from a longer phrase used in Zen Buddhism, “無心 の 心” (mushin no shin), or “mind without thinking.”

What is mushin?

Mushin is a state of mind where your mind is empty of all thoughts, desires, ideas and assumptions. When your mind is clear, you are free from your ego and you are able to act spontaneously and fluently without emotion or hesitation. That way, your mind is opened to everything.

It is a concept that is important in many traditional Japanese arts such as ikebana flower arranging, a beautiful style of shodo calligraphy or sumi-e ink painting, but especially for Asian martial arts such as aikido.

The discipline and awareness of the present moment are very important for these arts. Through mushin, artists or fighters achieve great concentration and sensitivity. When their mind is clear, their work is intuitive and flows from the subconscious.


The first mention of mushin comes from the famous Zen Buddhist monk of the 17th century (but also a prominent Japanese poet, painter, calligrapher, expert in the tea ceremony) and, among other things, the excellent swordsman Takuan Soho (1573-1645) in The Unleashed Mind. In this work he combines aspects of Zen Buddhism with martial arts. The following paragraph provides an excellent explanation of what happens in the mind when in the mushin state:

“When the swordsman stands against his opponent, he is not to think of the opponent, nor of himself, nor of his enemy’s sword movements. He just stands there with his sword which, forgetful of all technique, is ready only to follow the dictates of the subconscious. The man has effaced himself as the wielder of the sword. When he strikes, it is not the man but the sword in the hand of the man`s subconscious that strikes.”

Such a pure state of mind, pure mental clarity, means that the mind is not firm, busy with thoughts or emotions, and therefore open to everything. Present, conscious and free.

This state is attained when the mind is freed from anger, fear, distracting thoughts, ego, and judgments. One is absolutely free to act and respond to situations without fear and without being disturbed by external factors. At this point, he doesn’t rely on what he thinks the next move should be, but what his naturally trained reactions are, or what he feels intuitive. However, it is not a state of relaxation close to sleep. We can say that the mind works very fast, but without intention, plan or direction.

Mushin in the western world

Mushin is a Japanese concept rooted in Zen Buddhism. But a certain version of mushin can be found in many different arts and disciplines around the world. For example, an athlete on the track also experiences some form of mushin. He must free himself from conscious thinking in order to “only” run. Although, for example, their extreme sharpness of concentration is called something else. The same can be said about actors whenever they improvise or get lost in a character. They must absolutely clear their minds of their ego so that they can respond quickly and appropriately to situations.

Why could it be useful for us?

Mushin is a very useful concept that we can be inspired by in many different life situations. Whatever your field, if you try to free your mind from the inner hustle and bustle of premature judgments and assumptions, you will stop evaluating possible failures in advance, but you will perceive only the present moment and immerse yourself only in the task, then maybe you can also experience mushin. It could even help you with your efforts, whether you’re an athlete, a creative person, or just need to focus better. It’s something worth thinking about.

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Kaizen – small regular steps to self-improvement

Kaizen - small regular steps to self-improvementAlmost every one of us, regardless of age, would “sometimes” need or simply want to learn something new or “just” to improve in something. And not only in the professional life level, but also in the private one. Whether it is to learn a foreign language properly, improve your physical condition, or even fulfill your secret desire to learn to dance or paint pictures.

Having time is just awareness and layout of your priorities

But we often postpone it because we don’t feel we have enough time for it yet. Sometimes, for example, after the New Year’s resolutions, we are really going to do it with great determination. And very intensely. But soon we will loose strength, time, taste. The results are not what we expected. Our original enthusiasm disappears and we perceive it all as our failure. And this, together with a lot of our everyday responsibilities, will often drive us to a new / further postponement of “… when there is more time”.

Technology has significantly accelerated our pace of life, but has not given us any more time.time-lapse photography of highway road at night

Despite the new and ever-accelerating technologies that are supposed to make our working and private lives easier, we almost all have a constant feeling of “lack of time and need for rush”. That is why we would like to do everything quickly and, if possible, immediately in perfect form. We would like to speak a foreign language quickly, preferably immediately as a native speaker; lose weight quickly and have a perfect figure from the magazine, handle all dance steps perfectly as a professional dancer, or paint a picture like a gallery right away.

Sometimes we strive for too radical personal changes, our ideas and demands on ourselves are too exaggerated. Instead of doing something little by little, we are wasting our time finding ways to achieve “success” as quickly as possible. But if you think about all the people we admire for what they really do, no one has achieved their success overnight.

Kaizen – change for the better

But sometimes small, but regular steps are enough. Instead of trying to make radical changes in a short time, try every day a little improvement that gradually leads to the change you want. It will not exhaust you after a short time and you will not feel that you have to neglect your normal duties and habits.

And this is also the main idea of the Japanese Kaizen philosophy, applicable both in business and in our private life.

kaizenThe word “kaizen” is a combination of two Japanese words “kai” and “zen”. “Kai” is literally a change, so in a rough Japanese translation, kaizen means “change for the better”, which simply expresses its essence – continuous gradual improvement.

The principle of Kaizen in 10 main points

  1. Strive for continuous improvement. Things can always be better no matter how good or bad they are now.
  2. Always question stereotypes. If necessary, get rid of the old to make way for the new.
  3. Get wisdom from many people rather than rely on one expert.
  4. Don’t waste your time talking about excuses, but focus on finding solutions.
  5. Make sure your decisions are based on facts rather than opinions.
  6. Get to the root cause of the situation or problem by asking “Why?” At least five times.
  7. Before you spend money to solve a problem, look for simple and inexpensive solutions.
  8. Always question the status quo.
  9. Start upgrading now, even if you don’t have all the answers yet.
  10. Don’t underestimate yourself. Do not be discouraged in your journey by occasional setbacks.

Be a little better every daygray rock formation

So the real key to understanding and applying Kaizen is to focus on the idea of continuous improvement.

Every day, just focus on getting a little better than last day. Feel free to think about the smallest step you can take every day, which can gradually move you to your destination. Only about 1%.

It may not seem much, but even such 1% per day will add up. In the beginning, your improvement will be so small that it will seem almost non-existent. But gradually you begin to notice the improvement. It may take months or even years to feel that you have achieved what you wanted. But the result will come. And it will be more durable than when you start with a determined and very intense action and after a while you run out of breath.

And that sometimes you feel that you are not improving or that you are not doing it? Life is not a marathon. Stopping running for a while should not disqualify you. Sometimes just more, sometimes less. But we should also accept and not be subjected to occasional failures or negative emotions of defeat…


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Golden joinery of Kintsugi

How many times in your life have you smashed one of your favourite mugs, plates or bowls? Sometimes it just slips out of your hands, other times time works its magic and one day a crack appears, the ear remains in your hand …If it is a very precious or favourite piece of yours and it has not cracked to too many shards, you might want to try to fix it so that it would not be visible repair. Then you can use such a mug, for example, for pencils, plate or bowl under the flower. But only if you can get it together in such way that it is not at first sight recognizable. Otherwise, you just throw it away.


But it can be done differently. You can on the contrary repair such a piece so its repair stands out, it is shining in the distance and making so a new original piece in its way.

In Japanese culture, you can find Kintsugi art (translated to “golden joinery”) or Kintsukuroi (“golden repair”) – which can be briefly described as an art of repairing broken ceramics with a lacquer dusted or mixed with gold, silver or even platinum powder. It is believed that sometimes the repair of broken things can make them even better and more beautiful than if they were new.


This way of repair celebrates the unique history of each artefact by emphasizing its breakages, cracks or even missing parts instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, reviving it with a new life.


The art of Kintsugi dates back to the end of the 15th century. According to one legend, this art came into being when Japanese shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa sent a cracked Chinese chawan (a tea bowl) back to China for a repair. After its return, Yoshimasa was disappointed to find that this was corrected by unsightly metal staples. This motivated his craftsmen to find an alternative, aesthetically pleasing method of repair. And so Kintsugi was born.

Collectors were so enchanted by this new art that some were accused of deliberately breaking valuable pottery to repair it with the golden Kintsugi seams. Kintsugi became closely associated with the ceramic vessels used for the Japanese tea ceremony – the chanoyu. However, over time, this technique has also been applied to ceramic pieces of non-Japanese origin, including China, Vietnam and Korea.


Since its inception, Kintsugi technique has been connected and influenced by various philosophical thoughts. Specifically, with Japanese philosophy wabi-sabi, which calls for beauty to be seen in flawed or imperfections. This way of repair is also associated with the Japanese feeling of mottainai, which expresses regret when something is useless or thrown away, as well as mushin – freedom from premature trials and presumptions.

Basic methods

There are three predominant Kintsugi styles: crack repair, piece recovery method, and joint-call method. While, in any case, gold-dusted compound/epoxide is used to repair the broken ceramics, the remedies themselves differ a little from each other.

Crack repair methodCrack repair method – use of gold dust and resin or lacquer to fix broken pieces with minimal overlapping or filling of missing pieces

The piece recovery methodThe piece recovery method – if a ceramic fragment is not available, it is produced and supplemented exclusively by epoxy resin – golden mixtures

Joint call methodJoint call method – the missing piece of ceramics is replaced by a similarly shaped but inconsistent fragment of aesthetically different ceramics. It combines two visually different works into one unique piece. It is a method reminiscent of the well-known patchwork.

Present time

Kintsugi inspires many artists and craftsmen all over the world even today. And it does keep this ancient tradition alive. Works inspired by this technique can be found in many world museums and galleries.Kintsugi

But it can also inspire us. The next time we will not want to throw away a crackled saucer from a grandmother’s set, a broken cup we liked, or just an old flower pot … We can also take the breaks and subsequent repair as part of the history of the object, rather than something that should be disguised.

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Wabi-sabi history

When you search for information about wabi-sabi history or where it actually came from, you will almost always come across a link to 16th-century Japan and the legend of the tea master Sen no Rikyū. Rikyū is indeed honoured by the Japanese and considered to be maybe the first person to understand the core of this culturally-philosophical direction. And certainly, his approach to the aesthetics of natural simplicity greatly developed new forms of Japanese architecture, garden design, fine and applied arts. But he is definitely not someone who one day decided to create wabi-sabi from the ground up.



The complete beginning of the wabi-sabi nascency, of course, cannot be precisely dated. Wabi-sabi is based on Zen Buddhism, it is its specific expression. That is why it is sometimes stated that the primordial beginning dates back to 563 BC when Prince Siddhartha Gautama – later known to us as Buddha – found compassion for human suffering and gave up on the material world. Now, the history of Buddhism and Zen Buddhism should follow. But we’re going to abridge it and skip a few centuries later:

Tea ceremony

Tea ceremonyFrom the end of the 12th century, Zen Buddhism has begun to spread from China to Japan. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, the art of the tea ceremony also developed in Japan, mainly thanks to Buddhist priests.

Over the following two centuries, the tea ceremony developed in the most typical way for practising Zen philosophy. But at the same time also in a social form that combines the skills needed in architecture, interior design, garden design, floral arrangements, painting, food preparation and acting. Plus the tea master had to handle incorporating the present guests into a peaceful art event.

The tea room in the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th century was used for Japanese traders similar as recently in our world the golf courses. There were business contracts negotiated there. Consolidation and disruption of political alliances. Expensive materials, Chinese richly decorated ceramics, were used there. Overall, it was the aesthetics of opulence and exaggerated ornamentalism, mostly originating in China. Tea was actually taken as a sort of entertainment for the elite.

Murata Jukō

Murata JukōAlready at the end of the 15th century, the Zen monk Murata Jukō began to rebel against the existing rules of the tea ceremony. By, for example, opening access to the tea ceremony even for ordinary people. He ended this period of tea ceremony as a certain extravagance for the chosen ones. He also began to use ordinary unruly ceramics made by local people. This is also why is Jukō mentioned as the first known tea master of wabi-sabi.

Sen no Rikyū

Sen no RikyūA hundred years later – in the 16th century – we are already getting to the most famous figure of wabi-sabi – the tea master Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591), under which the wabi-sabi reached its peak. Frequently mentioned is the legend of Sen no Rikyū, which in its own simplicity describes the principle of wabi-sabi.

The legend of Sen no Rikyū

Sen no Rikyū was a young man who wanted to learn the art of the tea ceremony. So he went to the famous tea master Takeno Jōō, who instructed him to clean up and rake up a garden full of leaves as an entrance exam. After its thorough work, Rikyū checked the flawless and perfect appearance of the garden, but before he showed it to his master, he shook a tree – probably the Japanese Red Maple tree – and several beautifully coloured leaves fell on the ground.

According to another variant of the story, it was a blooming Sakura and Rikyū shook a tree to drop a couple of flowers. I don’t know, but we have a Japanese cherry tree in our garden. When it blooms, it’s really beautiful, but the flowers are falling in a big way by themselves without shaking the tree. However, this story to a certain extent essentially characterizes wabi-sabi – in the beauty of imperfection, transience and incompleteness.

There‘s a similar story about how Rikyū many years later rebuked his son – the future student of the art of the tea ceremony – for cleaning up a garden too perfectly.

Well, it’s a legend, and it sounds slightly made up. But this was in the 16th century. A century that wasn‘t very pretty. Neither in Asia nor in Europe. It was a time of constant war and cruelty, but also a period of the flowering of arts. Even the art of Japanese tea ceremonies.

Rikyū, the greatest of the tea masters

Rikyū became a tea master and one of the greatest at that. His approach to the aesthetics of simplicity has developed new forms of Japanese architecture, garden design, fine and applied arts.

But back to reality, Japan, 16th century. Rikyū became famous and respected in his lifetime. It worried his superior and patron, Hideyoshi, so much so that he ordered the seventy-year-old tea master Rikyū to commit ritual suicide (Harakiri).

wabi-sabi history Sen no Rikyū

Harmony, respect, purity and tranquillity are still the bases not only of the tea ceremony. Indeed, the Rikyū himself is even in these days revered by the Japanese and considered to be the first to understand the core of the cultural and philosophical direction of wabi-sabi – the art of finding beauty in imperfection, weighing every moment in its transience, honouring the authenticity. Wabi-sabi is interpreted as “the wisdom of natural simplicity“.

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What is wabi-sabi?

Wabi-sabi is an ancient Japanese philosophy influenced by Zen Buddhism (a bit of history here). It is one of the basic concepts of Japanese culture. Still, if you asked the Japanese public for an explanation of wabi-sabi, if you were even able to get an answer, every person would answer differently. Wabi-sabi really has no clear definition. That actually broadens the possibilities for different perceptions for each individual.

What is wabi sabi?In a simplified way, wabi-sabi can be described as thinking of celebrating the natural imperfection of the world and seeing a certain beauty in that imperfection. It is finding some evaluation and grace that brings the influence of time, for the things around us as well as for ourselves. It also perceives eventual defects as a certain uniqueness, awareness of the impermanence time.

Wabi-sabi was originally used to create the ideal environment for meditation in tea ceremonies.
These were guided by tea masters, all of which had to manage a huge range of knowledge, among others in architecture, interior design, garden design, flower arranging, painting, food preparation and acting. But they were also often philosophers and they used to express their thoughtsWhat is wabi sabi? with the writing and citation of very short poems (unlike the very large books of Western philosophers).


This is probably why short poetic expressions are the best for your own understanding of this way of looking at the world. And it’s up to us how we want to perceive them.

So, what is wabi-sabi?

What is wabi sabi?

It is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of the acceptance of the natural cycle of growth, death and decay.

It is a celebration of the beauty of normality and the natural evolution of life on earth.

It is the wisdom of a natural simplicity, honouring authenticity above all, as well as liberation from any biases or prejudices.

It is the beauty of modest and simple things, as well as the beauty of the unusual.

What is wabi sabi?

It is a celebration of cracks and crevices, and any other marks that time, weather, and even loving use leave behind.

It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet. 

The ideas of wabi-sabi can be described only as follows:

What is wabi sabi?



Acceptance of imperfection

Transient beauty




Peace of mind                              

Life in the moment


Humility, modesty, moderation and austerity

Emptiness (consciousness of openness)

Everything is constantly changing

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