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Written by Steven Chong
Two years ago when I first heard of ADAs ｢侘び草｣ Wabi-Kusa, I was both intrigued and put off at the same time. Creating the appeal of the aquariums design by relying on the random growth of the plants grouped in the Wabi-Kusa is undeniably a very nature-esque concept. It also speaks to a part of us aquarium keepers who are not only artists but also fish-nuts as the idea of letting things run wild has a definite allure to those who enjoy tramping through wild ponds and marshes.
On the other hand though, it also is a direct attack on the necessity for the trained skill of a frequent aquascaper. Instead of relying on the practiced eye and well thought out plans for layout, one simply places two or three Wabi-Kusa in the tank, and off it goes. I would be lying if I said I did not have my doubts. After these few years though, it is apparent the idea has taken off, and that the power of Wabi-Kusa as a design tool is both real and appealing.
For those who do not know, Wabi-Kusa is a product made by Aqua Design Amano. It is essentially a ball covered by aquatic plants grown in their terrestrial form, very similar to hydroponics used commonly in plant nurseries. Unlike typically sold aquarium plants though, the Wabi-Kusa is generally covered with a variety of plants, and is not meant to be separated and inserted into the substrate, but rather placed directly into the aquarium, as it naturally sinks. Wabi-Kusa can be placed inside the filled aquarium or in a container with only a small amount of water to allow the plants to maintain their terrestrial form in a more potted-plant type existence. Either way, the results can be stunning as the idea is to create a natural beauty by allowing the wildness, the small chaos of the mixed plants to grow together.
The name Wabi-Kusa is a reference to the Japanese aesthetic sense of Wabi-Sabi that appeals to the beauty in the slight chaos of nature. Kusa means weeds or plants. Even in his earliest books Amano-san referred to finding beauty in a patch of weeds, and this beauty has been turned into product. While it is unlikely that anyone will be topping the contests with these types of layouts, I have to say they do have a strong appeal and a refreshing free-spiritedness.
While it is possible to incorporate wood and stones with Wabi-Kusa into a more complex design, more often Wabi-Kusa are featured by ADA alone. A few stem-using groups in the back laid out on simple sand, or using Glossostigma elatinoides only Wabi-Sabi to build a foreground.
While traditionally a plant-only layout has the risk of becoming flat and monotonous (hence traditionally it is left only to skilled Dutch style aquascapes), the sheer chaos of the Wabi-Kusa, the mixing that occurs with the plants unified grouping, breaks up the monotony surprisingly well. Wabi-Kusa was well named, and truly does capture a Wabi-Sabi feeling.
Perhaps what I respect most about Wabi-Kusa is the capacity it represents for allowing much more casual hobbyists or simple nature-lovers to create beautiful layouts. I have always seen spreading aquascaping to a wider audience as an important task for the aquascaping community. However getting into it is quite difficult. Even though we can get the plants growing well, we all know the frustrations of not being able to get things to look good and perfectly arranged. With ADAs cheaper and easier to use Do!Aqua line of products, and the simple to use yet visually refreshing Wabi-Kusa, the task of creating a beautiful tank without great amounts of skill and experience has become much easier. The potential to bring in more hobbyists is very tangible and exciting to me. I will be looking forward to a wabi-future.