Serene, beautiful, peaceful, calming: those are a few words that can describe an aquarium. These words also happen to be a perfect description of traditional Japanese art, which seeks to find beauty in simplicity. While Japanese art and the aquarium hobby might seem like a perfect match, it wasn’t until the brilliant innovation of Takashi Amano that the two intermingled.
Amano is probably the single most influential and famous person in the freshwater aquarium hobby. He introduced Japanese gardening techniques such as Wabi-sabi and Zen art to the aquarium hobby to create a completely new wave of planted aquariums. It even has its own name: “Nature Aquarium.” The philosophy behind a nature aquarium is to create a complete ecosystem with plants and fish surviving in harmony to create a perfect living environment for every species.
If you’re wondering what made Amano so popular, all you have to do is check out a few of his aquariums. Like this one, for example:
As I mentioned earlier, one of Amano’s sources of inspiration is Wabi-sabi, a Japanese art style that seeks beauty in the imperfect, transient nature of objects. Some of the most important qualities of Wabi-sabi art are roughness, simplicity, humility, and asymmetry. When looking at Amano’s aquatic art it’s easy to see how these attributes manifest. His aquariums are simultaneously so beautiful that they border on perfection, yet so simple and natural that you almost think that you are looking at some undisturbed pond out in the middle of a forest.
And it’s easy to see evidence of zen rock garden art in Amano’s works. The large rocks spread throughout his aquariums are simultaneously centerpieces that draw the eye, yet unremarkable compared to the lush plant life surrounding them. The rocks and driftwood that Amano carefully places throughout his tanks create a sense balance and natural belonging, despite the fact that they are often extremely asymmetrical.
Saltwater aquariums are in stark contrast to Amano’s freshwater Nature Aquariums. Saltwater tanks rely on bright colors, exotic species, and extreme biodiversity to create a visual cornucopia. Nature Aquariums are the complete opposite. Your eye is drawn to the tank, but your gaze is immediately lost in the meandering greens and indistinct plants. It is as if the aquarium possesses a uniform serenity that soothes the eye and calms the mind.
I’ll admit: of all the aquariums that I’ve seen, this style appeals to me the most. These aquariums are the visual equivalent of a back rub. It’s almost impossible to look at one of these things and stay stressed. And for the ultimate visual back rub, here is Takashi Amano’s personal home aquarium:
You know — it’s kind of funny. I don’t speak a word of Japanese, but this guy is in the business of communicating messages through art and I understand everything he’s trying to say.