Over the past decade, zakka has gradually spread from Japan to the rest of the world. For many people, the word conjures up images of sun-dappled rooms filled with natural colors and small, well-chosen objets d’art. In Japanese and Chinese, zakka (雜貨) literally means “many goods.” But what exactly is zakka?
“Zakka is hard to translate into English,” says Fion Stewart (強雅貞), an artist and the author of Zakka Talk and Jiu Shi Ai Shenghuo (就是愛生活, “love of life”), books about the zakka lifestyle. “If I had to describe it, I would say it is a way of focusing on everyday objects, like a cup, a dinner plate, a garden or clothing.”
Stewart’s Taipei apartment is the embodiment of zakka. Baskets, glass bottles from L’Occitane, a vintage scale, a tea cup and a framed photo of her toddler daughter are all carefully arranged on a shelf above Stewart’s rustic dining room set, which she found secondhand and refinished with white paint and wood varnish. The corner her daughter’s crib sits in is brightened with a string of bright paper lanterns, a clothesline adorned with small stuffed animals and pink mittens, and plush, calico letters that spell out her name, “Mia.”
Even food is arranged with a zakka touch. During my visit, Stewart served fresh pineapple in a big glass goblet topped with a single sprig of mint that highlighted the fruit’s gleaming golden color.
“Zakka is also an attitude towards life,” says Stewart. “It encourages people to really figure out what they enjoy and then find a way to incorporate that into their day-to-day lives.”
Stewart first discovered zakka when she visited Japan after graduating from high school. Given the choice between continuing directly on to university or traveling first, Stewart chose the latter. As it happened, she had an aunt who lived in Tokyo, so Stewart went to stay with her. Stewart was immediately taken with the beauty and orderliness of the city’s streets and the Japanese vogue for French culture and design, which mirrored her own interests.
“Every family had something that was zakka, even if it was just a small window where they had arranged a lot of flowers and small decorations. It’s all about making small corners very adorable and cozy,” says Stewart, who illustrates children’s books, teaches painting classes at Chinese Culture University (中國文化大學) and is the co-owner of Cozy Corner in Tianmu, one of the first stores in Taiwan to specialize in zakka housewares, clothing and other accoutrements.
For people on a budget who want to incorporate some of the zakka aesthetic into their homes, Stewart encourages them to start by painting a wall or installing a curtain in a soothing color, like the white, linen beige and olive green hues that she prefers. “That really has an impact on a room’s atmosphere,” she says.
A shelf topped with potted plants can also lend a touch of character to a drab dorm room or rented apartment, while raffia baskets can be used instead of plastic boxes to organize clutter. One or two blossoms in a small vase can instantly brighten a corner or table. Greeting cards or postcards can be turned into miniature works of art with frames.
“I think a lot of people long to have a comfortable space of their own but they can’t afford to do a total interior makeover. Zakka is about focusing on the corners and nooks in your home instead,” says Stewart.