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Life is Wabi-Sabi offers up whimsy

June 9, 2014 - 12:05am

Like your “kawaii” served up with a heaping helping of philosophical whimsy?

The father/daughter team of Brian and Erynn Tanimoto hopes so. That’s what they’re selling at the Hilo-based business Life is Wabi-Sabi.

So far, the hardest part of running their new venture has been conveying what exactly the name and concept of the store means.

“People walk by and look in, but a lot of them, I don’t think they get it,” said Brian Tanimoto, former owner and operator of Tanimoto Gallery and Framing.

His 23-year-old daughter Erynn, a former employee of the University of Hawaii at Hilo Art Department, agreed.

“One guy stuck his head in. He thought we were a pet store,” she said with a chuckle.

Based on the traditional Japanese aesthetic of embracing the beauty of the incomplete, the imperfect and the impermanent, Wabi-Sabi is aimed at those who seek to introduce a little spirituality, positivity or philosophy into their lives via uplifting messages, framed drawings and other gifts.

The logo of the store features a cockeyed black cat declaring that life is “Purr-fectly Imperfect.”

Tanimoto, 62, said he first began studying the concept of wabi-sabi after a friend pulled him aside for a heart-to-heart discussion.

“He told me, ‘You’re too much of a perfectionist!’” Brian said. “So, I started learning about it, and it caught on quick.”

About six years ago, Brian, Erynn and others collaborated to make drawings of the store’s now-signature cat, which Erynn first drew when she was 13. They frame them with inspirational messages and reminders that life isn’t perfect, and that’s what makes it so special. Whenever they took them to arts and crafts fairs, the artwork flew off the shelves.

When business at Tanimoto’s framing store began to wind down, he decided it was time to scale back and refocus his attention on Wabi-Sabi. It was also a perfect opportunity for him to go into business with his daughter, who serves as an artist and computer guru when it comes to the designs.

The pair said the father/daughter dynamic can create some heated disagreements about work-related issues, but overall, they said they’ve relished the chance to work together.

Tanimoto, who keeps notebooks filled with words of wisdom as he encounters them, picks out favorite proverbs, sayings and inspirational messages and pairs them with either traditional Japanese artwork, such as calligraphy symbols or bamboo leaves or with the more modern, colorful and whimsical graphics featuring the cat and other anime-style characters.

“It’s not all about the cat,” Brian was careful to point out. “It’s more than that.”

Some of the images feature Hilo and Hawaii sites, such as Imiloa, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. T-shirts, magnets, corkboard signs and “Be” Buttons — which recommend the reader “Be Calm” or “Be Balanced” — abound on the walls and in the display areas of the store. There are also mini zen sand and rock gardens and Buddha statues aplenty, helping the place to look like a cross between a Hello Kitty omiyage shop and a Buddhist temple. But covered in purple.

“It’s lavender,” Brian corrected. “It represents spirituality and calmness.”

Located next door to Two Ladies Kitchen, Life is Wabi-Sabi can be found at 278 Kilauea Ave. in Hilo, or on the Internet at The store can also be found on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest, or call 961-0042.

Business hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Email Colin M. Stewart at