So often, in today’s rampant capitalist and consumerist world, people are desperate for more. More things; more money; more holidays, more friends, you name it. And this comes attached with the expectation that these things will bring us more happiness.
But the sad reality is: many people are stressed, tired, and unhappy. Continually looking for the answer to the questions ‘How can I get more?’ and ‘how can I be happy?’
For Japanese minimalism and the concept of Ma (間), the answer is staring us straight in the face: less is more.
What is Japanese minimalism?
Japanese minimalism is a way of life grounded in simplicity and appreciation. Japanese lifestyle icon Marie Kondo put minimalist on the map with her Netflix series and book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing,’ causing global fandom.
In many people’s quest for more… they pick up lots of things. In contrast, Marie Kondo stresses the concept of Danshari 断捨離 – decluttering.
Put simply, clutter devalues everything and causes stress. If you focus on the bare essentials – what you truly care about – happiness is at your fingertips. For Marie Kondo, the first step is happiness comes from evaluating the meaning of your possessions. Everything must have a place and a purpose. This way only can true happiness gush forth.
‘The question of what you want to own is actually the question of how you want to live your life… Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest that does not spark joy’.
Let’s be clear. Japanese minimalism is more than simply tidying your room or throwing out a few positions. It’s a fundamental mindset that takes your life and everything in it – and lasers in on the true meaning. Your work, friendships, goals, home, way of eating, speaking, your possessions – EVERYTHING must be considered.
Decluttering creates an empty space: not just physically but also in your mind. This is the essence of Japanese minimalism: Ma 間.
Ma 間 : the empty space
Ma 間 literally translates to ‘space between.’ It refers to an emptiness in space or time—a space between things, words, or actions. Fundamentally, Ma is the space that allows things to exist and stand out as having genuine meaning and value.
Ma is also silent, not sound. Comfortable silence is frequently used in Japanese conversation. It is the pause within a speech that brings out the meaning of the words that have been spoken.
Japanese culture reflects Ma 間 in several ways. For example, the Japanese bow is executed with a pause at the bottom to provide a moment of stillness which accentuates the meaning of the action.
We also see Ma in the arrangement of Japanese bonsai plants and flowers (ikebana), art, architecture, garden design, tatami tea rooms (pictured below), and traditional Noh theatre, emphasizing what the actor isn’t doing.
According to Japan’s minimalist philosophy: instead of there being too many things in your life, there is not enough Ma 間!
It allows us clarity of thought by providing a stillness to exhale and reflect. How much do we enjoy riding on an empty train than one crammed full with little room to move!? This aesthetic teaches us the value of space, and it plays a crucial role in highlighting the preciousness of all that’s there: mentally and physically.
Today, why not take a moment out of work to sit down with a cup of tea and breathe? Embrace the absence of your work emails. Get acquainted with Ma間.
Emptiness signals promise
The Japanese kanji for door 門 and sun 日 make up 間 (Ma). This symbolizes the exciting possibilities before us and only made possible by this emptiness – hopes and dreams yet to be fulfilled. The door has been opened in our lives, and we can see the sun streaming in. Rather than a depressing absence, Ma allows us to decide what we find meaningful. We have a blank canvas before us that we must paint with our own colors and create meaning.
Let us leave you with this Haiku poem which captures the essence of Ma:
Pots are formed from clay, though the space inside them is the essence of the pot.
Walls with windows and doors form the house, though the space within them is the essence of the house.