Like many Japanese words for which there is no direct translation, yugen is dificult to translate. I just finished reading a very funny thread on reddit asking advice on kanji for a tattoo. The person wanted to tattoo yugen onto his shoulder. A respondent to the thread suggested that unless the person fully understood the meaning, and without an enormous amount of cultural context probably did not, that maybe he should rethink tattoo ideas….
I am not sure I understand it fully. However, my understanding is that yugen means a suggestive beauty, a beauty of profound grace and subtlety. It is a word used to describe the Japanese aesthetic. Yugen suggests what can not be said in words. It is evocative rather than explicit.
My experience of beauty in Japan is exectly thus. It is often so understated and found in the quiet of so many everyday things, as to be almost invisible to those not looking, or too busy to contemplate.
The kanji (characters) of yugen mean 幽 ゆうーyuu- seclude, deep, feint, dark, tranquil, calm. 玄 げんーgen-mysterious, occultness, black, deep, profound.
A quote that I particularly like describes yugen as “a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the Universe….. and the sad beauty of human suffering…” from the book They Have a Word for It by Howard Rheingold.
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