The Perfection of Imperfection – A Lesson from Japan


Cover picture of book by James and Sandra Crowley

It seems as though in the USA we want everything to be perfect. We do this in part to feel good about our work or person. However, the perfect home, body, project, and relationship is impossible in the real world.

Everything has its flaws and that fact alone can potentially enhance the quality of our lives.

The perfection of imperfection came to mind as I recently was introduced to the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi Sabi.

The Japanese people have a preference and penchant for things imperfect.

Take the celebration of the full moon. Instead of the ceremony being on the day of the actual full moon, it is held three days before the full moon appears. Authors James and Sandra Crowley, in their book on Wabi Sabi writes of the Japanese

“They find the imperfect not only more alluring but also more poignant. The Japanese believe that the evocative shapes of emerging buds have more ability to touch peoples’ hearts than the glory of the spring tree in full bloom.”


 “Wabi Sabi is not found in nature’s moments of grandeur or majesty. It is found in meekness.”

 The adoption of the Japanese appreciation of imperfection can teach us top,

  1. Lower our disappointment level

When my son was a toddler, he refused to accept a cookie if it was broken in any way. Now while we may accept such an behavior in a small child, in the adult world perfection is a creation of our mind. We always fall short of our ideal. As we aim at excellence we need to factor in imperfection. This helps us recalibrate our life when barriers and problems arise. It is the old “when life presents you with lemons, make lemonade”.. When we see imperfection as the norm, it sets the stage for our,

  1. Imagination to be stimulated

An incomplete moon can remind us that life presents us with partial knowledge. And incompleteness presents the possibility of new vistas ahead. As the Crowleys write,

“The perfection of the full moon leaves no room for the imagination”

The ambiguity of saying “I don’t know” is a more honest response than a person, in their arrogance, claiming complete knowledge. This “not knowing” is not a failure on our part. Rather, it presents the potential for us to push ahead into new territory. It could be the beginning of us

  • Making an honest statement about the limitations of our knowledge
  • Recognizing the mystery contained in the “big” questions we encounter
  • Experiencing the true nature of humility
  • Knowing the power of the “what if’s” in life.

At the point of admitting partial knowledge, we could be experiencing the ultimate paradox in life where,

 The end of our knowing may be the beginning of new creative adventures.

  1. Find inner peace

Wabi sabi also helps us not freak out when we have everything from a less than perfect body to business plan. We have all experienced the inner turmoil when things did not turn out as expected. But finding beauty and meaning in incompleteness can be the path of peace.

The Crowleys write,

“Wabi sabi is for those who are at peace with themselves and want to feel the peace of the natural world around them at all times.”

The Japanese aesthetic of the perfection of imperfection has the potential of restoring harmony, balance, peace, and our experience of the true nature of beauty. We also learn that these experiences cannot be fully explained but can be totally experienced. It also teaches us about the value of asymmetry rather than living with the illusion that we have “all our ducks in a row”. In other words

We discover the liberation of not having to be in control


 How could you find Wabi sabi helpful in your world?



About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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3 Responses to The Perfection of Imperfection – A Lesson from Japan

  1. Anne Egros says:

    Beautifully written piece, we have so much to learn from japan. Do you know why the Japanese are leaner and have so many centenary people ? It is because they practice “Hara hachi bun” or eat until you are 80 percent full, a very healthy habit we can all learn by being more mindful eaters.

    • cedricj says:

      Thanks for your affirmation Anne. We have so much to learn from other cultures especially in these times of rampant nationalism. You are truly a citizen of the world.

      • Anne Egros says:

        Although we never met I feel we are connected on many ways. “The reverse side has also a reverse side” another Japanese saying that put things in perspective: when there is hate there is love too. Let’s resist nationalism by being united regardless of where we live.

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