Monday, March 19, 2012

Looking for Wabi-Sabi in Tokyo


That is the title of my very first zine. My idea is quite simple and I plan an ongoing series. 

If you aren’t familiar with the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, as a middle-aged woman in a western society that values youthful beauty above all else, I would say I’m not surprised!

I think it was the early 90s, when a very dear friend of mine gave me this little book. Truthfully, everything I understand of wabi-sabi comes from that book. I suspect that quite a few westerners are in the same boat.

The introduction says:

Wabi-sabi is a beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.
It is a beauty of things modest and humble.

To be honest, at the time, I liked the ideas, but I can’t say I consciously pursued them or incorporated them into my artwork. My first art was about accepting things as they are – the good and the bad, the grey areas.

Fast-forward around 10 years, and I found myself in Melbourne doing my mfa. And the title? Process and Change: The Nature of Human Experience. Not surprisingly, a large number of the works included were ephemeral i.e. impermanent. So maybe I have learned a little more about wabi-sabi along the way.

The idea for this book came from some detail photos I took of this. I confess that when I made the zines last year, I was a little confused and I called it a temple. Actually, it is Ueno Toshogu Shrine, built in 1616, and originally it was a part of the much larger Kaneiji Temple “complex”.

The building is absolutely beautiful with its rich red paint that is cracking and the gold paint, so opulent. Apparently the Kaneiji Temple was one of the wealthiest temples in Tokyo in in the Edo Period. When I was there I took a number of close-up photos, trying to record the amazing details to remind myself.

This book is made from one of my favourites and the photo is printed onto a single sheet of paper. I then folded the paper to create an eight-page booklet, a very simple technique. By using a single photo and dividing it into spreads, the reader is made to view the photo more slowly and with more consideration, than if the full image were presented at once. The book deals with ideas of whole and part, slow contemplation and a whole lot more.




So my zine is a little bit conceptual and a quite visual – which probably makes it a huge no-no, in zine-land, but what are rules for if not to be broken?

I’ve made a limited edition of 100 and around 30 have been given away so far. If you think you’d like one, then drop me a line (including your email). If you have a zine you’ve made that you’d like to trade with me, even better, but it’s not a requirement.



  1. I love the story and the zine - it looks like it would be lovely to hold in the hand! Sorry I don't have one to swap...

  2. Hi Amanda, I love the look of it and I have never been a zine person but yours seems visually delightful.
    At this stage I don't have one to swap...but maybe later.

  3. Your zine is just gorgeous Amanda. I would love to own one! I am starting work on one of my own, although it's a different style than yours. I would love to send you a copy when I ever get it done (which is who knows when!). I found your description about the purpose of the book, the slow contemplation of the photo idea, really interesting. I have heard of wabi sabi and certainly it's what many of us are longing for in these days of rather vapid concepts of beauty!

  4. Oh Amanda, this is a beautiful design, and a really interesting and thought provoking story to go with it. I am inspired to read more about Wabi-Sabi after reading your blog. Thanks for sharing. And if you wish to pass on your zine to me then i would be honoured to have one. And like the other ladies I don't have a zine to swap. In fact, i've never made one to date, but if i have an alternative work to pass on at a later date i shall keep you in mind.

  5. You made one fine zine, meaning that it's almost an anti-zine, for its concept and aesthetics. I love it, of course. It looks more like a small handmade book but I agree, rules are made to be broken and I like the way you re-ordered their bits and pieces.

  6. Thank you for breaking the rules!Your blog is almost as beautiful as the real thing.

  7. Your zine is gorgeous Amanda, and I think you've just started a whole new alternative zine movement!

  8. I can definitely say that this zine is really beautiful, being one of the earlier lucky recipients. Just looking at it now, I'm so impressed with its simplicity and elegance.

    I have a book (not one of mine but a published book) that I'm giving away on my blog today. It's Lark Studio Series 'Handmade Books'. Do have a look.

  9. Hi Amanda, Your zine is so wonderful, visual seems good to me. Your photos are so beautiful. I would love to have a copy of "looking for Wabi Sabi in Tokyo. I do have one I could send you. Yes, rules are made to be broken. My email is artATjudithhoffmanDOTnet. You have inspired me to try my hand at little zines/books/whatever-you-want-to-call-them again.

  10. well, i'd like one, too. i love the color. i will send you a postcard of my own...we'll trade addresses, ok?

  11. Just want to say, belatedly, that I've been really enjoying these thoughtful posts about zines. Much to think about. I've always had the fantasy/desire to create my own publication, but I think my fantasy would look slightly more magazine than zine... at least depending upon how one would define "zine."

    I love your Wabi Sabi zine... in fact, it is right in front of me as I type. I think it conveys wabi sabi-ness very well.

  12. Hi Amanda,
    Thanks so much for the interesting explanation and links about Wabi-Sabi...makes your beautiful zine even more wonderful. I am the happy owner of a copy, from your earlier give-away. I suspect that I have not thanked you properly for it...very remiss of me. A thousand apologies...and thank-you for your generosity and good blogginess. The zine is very lovely, and beautifully presented in its little slip-case. It does push the boundaries of zine-ness...but that's definitely a good thing.