Japanese Table Decoration and the Philosophy of the Aesthetic
Are you hosting a Japanese style dinner party? Or would you simply like to bring a touch of the elegant Japanese aesthetic to your dining table? This guide explains how to decorate the table Japanese style, and gives a brief insight into the philosophy behind Japanese table decoration.
As with virtually all traditional notions of Japanese interior design, the aesthetic element of Japanese table decoration can be traced back, in part, to Taoist philosophy. Laozi, the founder of Taoism, expressed emptiness as the aesthetic ideal, as it minimises physical obstruction to the imagination and the mood that is captured therein.
Accordingly, the traditional Japanese dinner table is minimalist and laid out with meticulous attention to detail. Craftsmanship, delicacy, beauty and harmony all have important roles to play. These qualities are reflected in the choice of materials used to decorate the table, which include fine woods, lacquer and silk; as well as the colour palette, which tends to consist of natural hues.
This painstaking attention to detail is set off by another Japanese tradition: wabi-sabi, or the celebration of the imperfect. This may appear to contradict my previous point, but stay with me. Stemming from Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, the notion that imperfection should be lauded is underpinned by an acceptance that the true beauty of the natural world lies not in its uniformity, but its lack thereof.
So how do these two seemingly contradictory notions tie in together? Well, the contrast between the perfect and the imperfect is extremely valuable because it places emphasises at each end of the spectrum, in turn enabling each to be better appreciated.
And how does this work in practice? Here’s a step-by-step guide showing how the values of minimalism, imperfection and contrast might manifest in Japanese table decoration.
Decorate the Table Japanese Style in 5 Steps
1. If using, begin by covering the table top with a crisp white or neutral coloured cloth.
2. Place a silk runner down the centre of the table. Alternatively, fill two or three Japanese bowls with your choice of decorative stones, coloured glass, candles, plants, petals and bonsai trees and line these up down the centre. Take care not to overdo it, and make sure they’re placed precisely in the centre to reflect the Taoist ideals of minimalism and attention to detail.
3. Select your dishes. These should include bowls, plates, chopsticks and cups, varying in size, shape or colour to address the aesthetic of wabi-sabi. At the same time, there should be a certain harmony and balance. So if, for example, you have square plates and circular bowls, the colour palette should be consistent.
4. Place the settings. Typically, each individual setting should follow the ichiju-sansai (one soup, three sides) arrangement, with the soup bowl placed on the right and an additional bowl of rice to the left. Three small, flat plates of sides should be added behind these. Place matching chopsticks on holders – not the table – with the ends facing left.
5. Choose a matching Japanese tea set. Japanese cups are typically ceramic and don’t have handles, and can be used to serve everything from tea to sake. If you are serving alcohol, you could always switch the tea set for a sake one that matches the rest of your table décor.
I hope you found this guide useful. However, it can be difficult to know exactly how to decorate the table Japanese style without seeing examples, so it may also be worth perusing Google Images and Pinterest to get a better idea. If you need anything for your table, whether it’s a delicate Japanese tea set or a stunning lacquer bowl, you can find everything you need on our website. You can also find several authentic Japanese recipes, a guide to Japanese table etiquette and much more on this blog.
Itadakimasu (bon appétit!) – The Japanese Shop