The idea of simplicity appears in many cultures, especially the Japanese traditional culture of Zen philosophy. Japanese manipulation of the Zen culture into aesthetic and design elements for architecture has influenced Western Society, especially in America since the mid 18th century. Moreover, it inspired the minimalist architecture in the 19th century. Zen concepts of simplicity transmit the ideas of freedom and essence of living. Simplicity is not only aesthetic value, it has a moral perception that looks into the nature of truth and reveals the inner qualities and essence of materials and objects. For example, the sand garden in Ryoanji temple demonstrates the concepts of simplicity and the essentiality from the considered setting of a few stones and a huge empty space. The Japanese aesthetic principle of Ma refers to empty or open space. It removes all the unnecessary internal walls and reduces everything down to the most essential quality.
My friend, Shozo Sato, is an internationally renowned master of Japanese Zen arts and visionary theatre director, best known for adapting Western classics to Japanese Kabuki theatre.
In 1968, he founded the Japanese Arts and Culture Program at the University of Illinois, where he taught classes in traditional Japanese arts, such as calligraphy, sumi-e, ikebana, zen aesthetics, and tea ceremony. Shozo practices the Japanese aesthetic of Wabi-sabi which emphasizes the value the quality of simple and plain objects. It appreciates the absence of unnecessary features, treasures a life in quietness and aims to reveal the innate character of materials. For example, the Japanese floral art, also known as Ikebana, has the central principle of letting the flower express itself. People cut off the branches, leaves and blossoms from the plants and only retain the essential part of the plant. This conveys the idea of essential quality and innate character in nature. However, far from being just a spatial concept, Ma is present in all aspects of Japanese daily life, as it applies to time as well as to daily tasks.