A stunning Japanese philosophy that will make you a better marketer, entrepreneur and human.

Written by Cole Schafer




My grandmother, Mitsuko Iijima, jumped on a great big cargo ship and moved to the United States when she was just twenty years old, not knowing a lick of English.

While a great deal of the success I’ve found as a writer, entrepreneur and marketer stems from lessons I’ve learned from my father, my grandmother taught me just as much, if not more.

She was a brilliant businesswoman in her own right. She owned a tiny but mighty Japanese haunt in Evansville, Indiana called Kanpai –– to this day, folks say it’s the best place they’ve ever had the luxury of dining at.

Yet, interestingly enough, what made my grandmother so successful in the restaurant business wasn’t necessarily her drive to “be the best” at what she did… but rather to just be.

I would later come to find that my grandmother was a prime example of a Japanese philosophy and design ideology called Wabi-sabi, centered on the idea of finding beauty in the imperfect, the impermanent and the incomplete.

Did someone just flush the toilet?

There was nothing perfect about my grandmother, her life nor the restaurant she had created. But, it was in this imperfection where the beauty could be found.

While she was one of the most gifted cooks I’ve ever met, she didn’t measure a damn thing, she didn’t own a recipe book, she had no “process”. She just did the best she could with what she had.

She grew up extraordinarily poor and never had the luxury that the pompous celebrity-chefs have of “cooking with the finest ingredients”. And, because of this, she was forced to make due. And, when you’re forced to make due, you’re forced to accept that there is no such thing as perfect.

This was the beauty in my grandmother –– she was this beautiful curation of imperfections.

As I’ve gone about building Honey Copy, my creative writing shop that works with brands on writing pretty words that sell whatever it is they’re selling, I’ve embraced some of this philosophy.

I’ve come to find that no brand nor business is perfect and that so much of being a successful marketer is about understanding this and marketing the beauty in a brand’s imperfections. For some companies, that has meant admitting they’re not the best.  

By doing this, by embracing wabi-sabi, marketers and entrepreneurs can build more unique, authentic brands.

At Panda Express, customers are going to get the exact same “perfect” watered down experience whether they’re dining at a chain in New York City or one in the middle of Idaho.

But, what made folks choose my grandmother’s restaurant over Panda express was that it felt so damn human.

Customers were elbow to elbow with other customers. Bangs and clacks could be heard from the back of the restaurant as cooks were busy at work. The restaurant was so small that if someone flushed a toilet, you could hear it. At times the service was a bit slow, it could by no means be described as zippy.

But, despite all of this, folks showed up, time and time again, because they were getting a perfectly imperfect experience they could find nowhere else. Not to mention, a damn good meal, too.

What Japanese food and Vinyl have in common.

In addition to my grandmother’s little Southern Indiana Japanese restaurant, I think the resurgence we are seeing in Vinyl at the moment speaks to this extensively.

Recently, I invested (more than I’d care to admit) in a turntable and a pair of bookshelf speakers.

It has been a really lovely experience as I’ve begun to listen to the dozen or so vinyl I have collected over the past couple of years.

At first, I found myself getting frustrated as I noticed some of the vinyl would skip in certain places.

If there is anything universal about vinyl it’s that all of them seem to be imperfect in their own unique ways.

But, as I’ve listened and re-listened, I’ve come to find the beauty in vinyl isn’t just in the pretty vintage grainy sound but in these tiny skips and blemishes.

While none of my vinyl are perfect in a new unscathed sense, they’re perfectly imperfect and I think that’s what makes the experience so intimate.

There is something so wonderfully intimate about listening to vinyl.

You can’t skip to specific songs. You have to get up frequently to flip or switch out the vinyl. But, to me, it’s the closest listening experience to a live performance.

It’s just you, a few friends or a lover and a musician that’s running you through his or her set. It’s wabi-sabi in the truest sense.

Wabi-sabi, Mitsuko Iijima and vinyl show marketers, entrepreneurs and humans that perfect doesn’t always sell…

I think racing to be perfect (or the best) is a race to the bottom. Here soon, there will be an iPhone 57+ and eventually, consumers are going to ask themselves a serious question…

Is this human?

Sure, it’s perfect, but is this human?

I think the Japanese philosophy of Wabi-sabi reminds us marketers and entrepreneurs who we are marketing and creating for; humans.

And, humans are anything but perfect.

By Cole Schafer.