Shibumi, a Japanese term referring to a subtle elegance, but at times suggestive of austerity or even bitterness, captures a certain sense of restraint that is reflected in much traditional Japanese design. Although concepts derived from Japanese Zen Buddhism, such as ma, wabi-sabi, and iki, may be more commonly known to English-speaking audiences, this article proposes that shibumi is the more appropriate concept to apply when considering the minimalist nature inherent in much Japanese design. Moreover, this article suggests that shibumi and modernist design tastes may be compatible, despite past suggestions to the contrary. To support this viewpoint, I point to evidence in the ongoing design trends in Japanese design that continue to embrace several of the ideals of twentieth-century modernist design.

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