Japanese Minimalism – A Timeless Style for Home and Life

The Japanese minimalist movement began as simply as tea practices and became a popular method to connect to nature.  This style of minimalism can be found in architecture, design, and even fashion to connect with your Zen.

Japanese minimalism was inspired by Buddhism and nature to live a clean, natural life in harmony with nature.  It began in the early 1900s with tea bowl design and has spread to architecture, fashion, and art.

You’ve probably heard of Buddhism and Zen, but did you know it inspired the Japanese minimalism movement?  Would you like to know how you can create your Zen through Japanese minimalism in your home and your life?

What Is Japanese Minimalism?

Japanese minimalism is a style inspired by Buddhism.  This type of minimalism is focused on a simple life, clean and uncluttered living, and utilizing only the essentials.  Japanese minimalism encourages us to connect ourselves to Earth, be grounded, and live in harmony with balanced spaces inspired by nature.

Japanese minimalism brings out inspiration from traditional Japanese design principles and incorporates a minimalist approach to create serene, uncluttered, and harmonious spaces. Japanese minimalism goes beyond just design principles and can be seen in various aspects of the Japanese lifestyle, such as the appreciation of mindfulness and simplicity in daily life.

Buddha statue with mountains - Japanese Minimalism - Gone Minimal
Buddha statue with mountains

The History of Japanese Minimalism

Japanese minimalism is what inspired today’s practice of minimalism.  It originates from Zen philosophy, which is inner freedom and peace through simplicity.  Started in the early 1900s, this movement was spread throughout Japan through their homes, architecture, fashion, design, and even art.  It was started as an aesthetic in tea bowls and became a meditative masterpiece of minimalism through everything else.

Areas of Japanese Minimalism

Japanese minimalism began with tea practices in the early 20th century, but it spread to affect other areas from fashion to architecture.  Let’s look at these areas of Japanese minimalism to give you a better idea of what they strive to achieve.

Japanese Minimalist Fashion

Japanese minimalist fashion is defined by muted palettes and simple silhouettes to build a wardrobe of basic pieces.  It’s all about subtlety-quite the opposite of where it was in the 1980s and 1990s, when it was all about bright, loud, catch-your-eye looks.  Japanese minimalist fashion is now about basic, correct fit, and coordinating pieces with interesting textiles and unique finishes.

Japanese Minimalist Architecture

Japanese minimalist architecture is defined by grace, decluttering, and the basics.  These buildings and houses are airy, full of natural light, and connected to nature.  Furniture is also kept to a minimum, and usually low to the ground to keep the user “grounded”.  Japanese minimalist architecture is evolved from pure necessity due to land shortages and the need to connect with nature.  Open floor plans and wide openings create a balance between indoors and out.

Modern Japanese design - Japanese Minimalism - Gone Minimal
Modern Japanese design

Japanese Minimalist Design

Japanese minimalist design is closely associated with Zen, ancient traditions, and harmony with nature.  It is defined by the use of natural materials, craftsmanship, and imperfection.  It is accepting of everything as is so that stress and disappointment are avoided, therefore Zen can be achieved.  There are open floor plans, wide open spaces, simple furnishings, and only the essentials in all Japanese minimalist design.

Japanese Minimalist Art

Japanese minimalist art is beautiful in its simplicity and depiction of nature.  This style of artwork is uncluttered, composed of few brushstrokes, and usually bold in its choice of contrasting colors.  Japanese minimalist art is bold yet simple, along the lines of Zen and connection with nature.

How to Practice Japanese Minimalism at Home

There are several ways to practice Japanese minimalism at home and create soothing and serene vibes.  It all begins with nature.

  • Neutral colors – Choose neutral and soft colors (for example: whites, grays, and cream colors) with low contrast for peace and serenity.
  • Declutter – Pare down your decorations and furniture to the bare essentials.  Use storage solutions to store what is not essential to maintain a clean and simple look.
  • Zen bedroom – Make your bedroom a serene place for relaxation and sleep.  Make your bed every day. 
  • Incorporate nature – Use natural accents like small plants and nature-made materials like wood floors, rock gardens, and natural light.
  • Lines – The Japanese minimalism style is defined by as many horizontal lines as you can include in the structure and design of the home.  This creates long, open spaces with a clean look.
  • Grounded – Staying grounded includes using low-profile furniture, mats on the floors for sitting, and even no furniture in some cases.  This helps you stay connected to the earth.
  • Energy – Create each room’s look based on the energy as well as purpose.  This will help create a balanced home and positive energy flow.
Minimal modern living room - Japanese Minimalism - Gone Minimal
Minimal modern living room

Marie Kondo and Japanese Minimalism

Marie Kondo is a cleaning guru who gained recent popularity thanks to streaming services and her simple visual style.  Her KonMari MethodTM  is about tidying and keeping things that “spark joy”, which has been inspiring to many to declutter and reorganize their spaces.  While not actually a minimalist, her methods are similar to the Japanese minimalist lifestyle with organizing much-neglected closets, kitchens, and garages in a way that helps people simplify.  Her method is about keeping the things that bring people joy, rather than eliminating and minimizing

Helpful Insights into Japanese Minimalism

In order to better understand Japanese minimalism, it helps to look at how it started and what it consists of.  There are different types of Japanese minimalism, and we’re going to define some related vocabulary to help better paint the picture that is this lifestyle.

Did Minimalism Start in Japan?

It can be said that minimalism started in Japan sometime in the 12th century.  Minimalism was already embraced by Japanese residents at that time through art and pottery, and Zen Buddhism as well as green tea influenced the practice of minimalism even more to embrace meditation as well as being present in the moment.

What Is Zen minimalism?

Zen minimalism is the practice of simplifying and keeping only the essential.  This helps the user find balance and peace in order to better connect with nature and with their Zen.

What Is Japandi?

Japandi is the combination of Japanese minimalism and Scandinavian functional design elements.  What this looks like is form and function, clean lines, simplicity, light natural colors and bright spaces.  The focus is natural materials and minimal, functional pieces that are sustainable.  Comfort and coziness create your sanctuary.

What Is Wabi Sabi Style?

Wabi-sabi is finding value in nature and natural forms.  It is a world view that focuses on acceptance of imperfection and impermanence.  Wabi-sabi style is an aesthetic of a neutral palette, natural inspiration, and beauty of celebrating the knots in wood and wrinkles in fabrics.

This super helpful video below gives some easy tips on how to Wabi-sabi your home.

The Benefits of Living a Japanese Minimalist Life From Real People

I asked some family and friends to rank the 5 benefits (listed below) in order of preference for what they feel would benefit them most from living a Japanese Minimalist style life.  Here is what they shared and what I learned from the poll:

  1. Calmer Mind
  2. Fresh, Open Spaces
  3. Less to Clean
  4. Saving Money by Owning Less
  5. Feeling More Free
BenefitsTally of Family/Friends
1, 2, 3, 4, 52
5, 3, 1, 2, 41
4, 3, 5, 1, 23
3, 4, 2, 1, 52
5, 2, 1, 3, 42
2, 4, 3, 1, 51
5, 4, 3, 2, 11

Other Resources:

Japanese minimalism is a wonderful way to not only declutter and organize your living space, but to connect with nature.  This method can be truly inspiring and a way to bring yourself closer to nature, thus helping you to achieve your own personal Zen.  Why not give it a try?

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