Visiting Japan was a deeply rewarding experience that precipitated lessons in design (among other things) that I will carry with me forever.  If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve seen a sneak peak of what I’m referring to.  Either way, here are 4 aesthetic truths that the splendor of Japan has engrained in me.

There’s No Competing with Mother Nature

Design Lessons from Japan on Motley Decor... 1. There's no competing with Mother Nature

As a maximalist, walking into my room at a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), I was struck by its simplicity.  The palette and materials were completely neutral and natural: warm wood finishes, woven tatami mats, and semi-transparent paper screens.  Adornments were limited to a singular tapestry accompanied by a lone vase.  However, as soon as my eyes beheld the view outside, it all made sense.  My room wasn’t the main event.  Rather, it was a frame for the lush, verdant, and utterly magical garden just beyond the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Design Lessons from Japan on Motley Decor... 1. There's no competing with Mother Nature

In fact, the few minutes that I spent strolling through that garden were among the most memorable of my trip.  Every shade of green was represented in every fathomable texture–from dark, smooth pine needles to velvety, chartreuse moss.  Black dragonflies danced about as glittering koi slithered downstream.  Only birds could be heard and the air was spiced with an earthy, faintly medicinal aroma thanks to some morning showers.

Having returned home, I’m definitely motivated to focus more attention on landscaping.  And, if I ever achieve an enchanting garden (like the one I visited in Kinosaki-Onsen) I’ll have to remember my time in Japan and tone down the room that overlooks it.  Because we mortals simply can’t compete with the wonders of Mother Nature.

Food Presentation Is Important

What I Learned in Japan via MotleyDecor... 2. Food presentation is important

Another extraordinary perk about staying in a ryokan is having an elaborate meal served in your room.  Low slung lacquer tables are set with the greatest of care and small course after small course delights every sense.

What I Learned in Japan via MotleyDecor... 2. Food presentation is important

Each petite portion is plated to impress.  Notice how the pumpkin is cut to resemble a gingko leaf and how the gingko berry is skewered on a pine needle.  This is just one example of many.  Each serving is as beautiful as it is delicious.  Despite the small portions, the sheer number of courses is enough satisfy nearly any appetite.  I was blown away and humbled to think about how much work had gone into preparing our meal.  I felt immensely grateful for the experience.

And now that I’m home, it’s time to up my food presentation game.  For real.

Have a Signature Color

What I learned about design from visiting Japan | Motley Decor | Have a Signature Color

Kyoto is home to over 2,000 temples and shrines.  Every few blocks, you stumble up on a new one–even in crowded markets.  More often than not, they make themselves known  by their vibrant, blood orange entrances.

What I learned about design from visiting Japan | Motley Decor | Have a Signature Color

After some quick googling, I learned that this color is meant to purify the patrons who pass beneath so that they are fit to meet the gods within.

Unfortunately for me, this koi fish orange color did not cure me of the tremendous sense of gluttony I felt while in Japan–home of sushi, ramen, tempura, udon, sukiyaki, and the best fried chicken I’ve ever had.  However, it did impress up on me the importance of a signature color.  I hereby call dibs on green!

Nothing Conveys Grandeur Quite Like Gold

Nothing Conveys Grandeur LIke Gold | Design Lessons from a Trip to Japan on Motley Decor

I’ve long been a fan of the yellow metal hoarded by nearly every civilization since the beginning of time.  But, there’s something about the way the Japanese employ gold and feels especially majestic.  I suppose the best example is the Kinakuji Temple, a structure sheathed entirely in gold, crowning a reflective pond and nestled among dense vegetation.

Nothing Conveys Grandeur LIke Gold | Design Lessons from a Trip to Japan on Motley Decor

But, even in smaller doses–whether it’s the embroidery on an obi sash or the paint on this wall mural–gold enhances Japanese art forms with synergistic results.

I will strive for this level of grandeur the next time I apply gold leaf.

Until next time, sayonara!