Yūgen 幽玄 is an important concept in traditional Japanese aesthetics. The exact translation of the word depends on the context. In the Chinese philosophical texts the term was taken from, yūgen meant “dim”, “deep” or “mysterious”. In the criticism of Japanese waka poetry, it was used to describe the subtle profundity of things that are only vaguely suggested by the poems, and was also the name of a style of poetry

Yugen suggests that beyond what can be said but is not an allusion to another world. It is about this world, this experience. All of these are portals to yugen:

“To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return. To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands. To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds. And, subtle shadows of bamboo on bamboo.”  Zeami Motokiyo.

Zeami was the originator of the dramatic art form Noh Theatre and wrote the classic book on dramatic theory (Kadensho). He uses images of nature as a constant metaphor. For example, “snow in a silver bowl” represents “the Flower of Tranquility”. Yugen is said to mean “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering”. It is used to refer to Zeami’s interpretation of “refined elegance” in the performance of Noh.


Geidō refers to the way of the traditional Japanese arts: NohkadōshodōSadō, and yakimono. All of these ways carry an ethical and aesthetic connotation and appreciate the process of creation. To introduce discipline into their training, Japanese warriors followed the example of the arts that systematized practice through prescribed forms called kata – think of the tea ceremony. Training in combat techniques incorporated the way of the arts (Geidō), practice in the arts themselves, and instilling aesthetic concepts (for example, yugen) and the philosophy of arts (geido ron). This led to combat techniques becoming known as the martial arts.

All of these arts are a form of tacit communication and we can, and do, respond to them by appreciation of this tacit dimension.

The phrase iki is generally used in Japanese culture to describe qualities that are aesthetically appealing and when applied to a person, what they do, or have, constitutes a high compliment. Iki is not found in nature. While similar to wabi-sabi in that it disregards perfection, iki is a broad term that encompasses various characteristics related to refinement with flair. The tasteful manifestation of sensuality can be iki. Etymologically, iki has a root that means pure and unadulterated. However, it also carries a connotation of having an appetite for life. Iki is never cute.

Aesthetics and Japan’s cultural identities

Because of its nature, Japanese aesthetics has a wider relevance than is usually accorded to aesthetics in the West. In her path making book, Eiko Ikegami reveals a complex history of social life in which aesthetic ideals become central to Japan’s cultural identities. She shows how networks in the performing arts, the tea ceremony, and poetry shaped tacit cultural practices and how politeness and politics are inseparable. She contends that what in Western cultures are normally scattered, like art and politics, have been, and are, distinctly integrated in Japan.

After the introduction of Western notions in Japan, Wabi Sabi aesthetics ideals have been re-examined with Western values, by both Japanese and non-Japanese. Therefore, recent interpretations of the aesthetics ideals inevitably reflect Judeo-Christian perspectives and Western philosophy. ( from Wikipedia ).

Soke recently mentioned that it is not good enough to just concentrate on Budo. In order to make correct desicians and generate a balanced outlook on living, we must study and experience many things. This is why he has asked people to learn dance and keenly follow artistic pursuits.

It is also through developing these differing avenues of learning that we build relationships with other wonderful people from various areas of life. We come to experience different viewpoints and develop a more “worldly knowledge”.

For those that just concentrate on the martial arts, they will develop in an unbalanced way. The Samurai of old were cultured individuals and undertook extensive training and mastered many skills in both the arts and literature. Soke wishes us to take up the pen and sword with equal determination while discovering the mysteries of the world and it`s inhabitants through the wonderful medium of art.

This is why he states that the mastery of Saino Kon Ki is to come to understand the life of a bugeisha. From there, we can discover the truth of Rokkon Shojo and live our lives happy to the soul while laughing everyday.

It is important that the 15th dans consider this carefully and understand that people of that level have a very serious responsibility for the future. We have to understand the martial heart and allow this to permeate from us to help our students and those who seek to tread the path of budo.

Soke also said that understanding the 5th dan test is the beginning to understanding the Amatsu Tatara. He stated that it is imperative for those wishing to study the Amatsu Tatara to firstly have legitimate qualifications in Medicine. It was also said that people should not be making money from it.

For those of us who are privleged to occasionally give the godan test, it is important to realise it is a new beginning and development process toward greater understanding. This process never ends.

The 15th dans must develop the knowledge ” to know ” if the student sitting the test is “ready”  ( in many aspects ) to recieve it. There are dangers involved on many levels. Therefore, the 15th dans must develop the ” sense of the 15th dan ” to understand this. To ensure this safety and the study of correct judgement, Soke has the 15th dans perform the test in his presence.

He wishes that from the many 15th dans in the world, that some will become masters. He also reminds students to learn from “good” 15th dans. This is the reality behind the Bujinkan ranks.

So, for those that believe they are “masters” now they have 15th dan, they need to think again.

Paul Masse – Budoka,Performer,Calligrapher,Painter,Potter,Linguist – Bugeisha.

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