Iki (stylishness) (いき)

"Iki" is a Japanese aesthetic sense (aesthetic concept). It is said to have emerged among the townspeople of Fukagawa (Koto Ward), Edo (modern-day Tokyo), during the late Edo period. It is being refined in dress and manners and considered good-looking. It also means being humane, knowing how to have a good time, etc. The antonym of iki is yabo (being uncouth, senseless, rustic, etc.).

Iki' shares characteristics such as an orientation toward simple beauty in common with other Japanese aesthetic concepts like wabi (a state of calm, quiet subtlety which avoids being gaudy or showy) and sabi (austere elegance which reflects simplicity and loneliness). Overseas, wabi and sabi have, until now, been perceived of as representing Japanese aesthetics. However, being related to religious concepts like mujo (transience), wabi and sabi are considered difficult to understand. It is not easy even for Japanese people to explain these concepts. Also, wabi and sabi are becoming rather remote from the present daily life of Japanese people. In comparison, 'iki' may also mean 'sappari' (neat, frank, and plain) and 'sukkiri' (neat and clear) when used as an adjective, and it is more friendly and has a broader meaning than before. Even today it is widely and routinely used in Japan.

There is a word 'inase' having a similar meaning to 'iki.'
It is said that 'iki' concerns fire fighters and 'inase' fishmongers. They are often used together in the phrase 'iki de inase na'. However, it is not necessarily the case that the users know how to use them properly.

Iki' by Kuki
Shuzo KUKI for the first time philosophically examined the aesthetic sense of 'iki' that was unique to Edo in "The Structure of 'iki'" (1930).
In his book, he positioned it as an aesthetic sense original to Japan, considering that 'other languages do not have any synonymous words.'
While he mentioned that foreign words such as 'coquetterie' and 'esprit' have a similar meaning, he argued that common or similar points derived through the abstraction of forms should not be used to understand a culture. He contended that the comprehension of the culture of iki should be based on experiential and concrete consciousness. In the same book, he also claimed that 'bitai' (coquetry) toward the opposite sex invariably underlies iki and that the permanent existence of sexual tension produces its components, such as 'tsuyapposa' (amorousness) and 'iroke' (sex appeal).

On the other hand, the essence of iki is also heavily colored by the moral ideal of the Edo people, and is summarized in 'ikiji' (guts), one of the components of 'iki.'
This shows through in the so-called yasegaman (fake stoicism) and hankotsu-seishin (a spirit of defiance). The spirit and pride embodied in the proverb, 'do not keep one's earnings overnight,' are also considered 'iki' (stylish). Shuzo KUKI succinctly stated in his book that a distinctive feature of "iki" is that bitai is spiritualized by idealism-inspired "ikiji."

Kuki's argument has been criticized on the grounds that, by bringing up samurai (warriors) who, if anything, have traditionally represented 'yabo,' it neglects the fact that 'iki' is the culture of the townspeople, and also that it follows Western philosophical logic.

Iki and sui (quintessence)
Iki is generally written with the character "粋," but in specialist works it is written phonetically as 'いき' (iki) in order to distinguish it from "粋" (sui), which is the aesthetic sense of Kamigata (the Kyoto-Osaka district). Both 'iki' and 'sui' are written with the same character. However, while the 'sui' of Kamigata refers to the cultural pattern that crystallizes after love, decorations, and so on have been thoroughly thought through (resulting in things such as a lovers' suicide or a luxurious kimono) and is literally the 'sui' of junsui (purity), the 'iki' of Edo is said to be the result of constantly getting closer, without becoming detached or attached, in order to keep the above-described sexual tension alive. The 'iki' of Edo is sometimes written as '意気' (iki). It can also be written various other ways.

[Original Japanese]