Mono No Aware

genji

Mono no aware (literally ‘the pathos of things’), also translated as ‘an empathy toward things,’ or ‘a sensitivity of ephemera,’ is a Japanese term used to describe the awareness of ‘mujo’ or the transience of things and a gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing. The term was coined in the eighteenth century by the Edo period Japanese cultural scholar Motoori Norinaga, and was originally a concept used in his literary criticism of ‘The Tale of Genji,’ and later applied to other seminal Japanese works including the ‘Man’yōshū,’ becoming central to his philosophy of literature, and eventually to Japanese cultural tradition.

The word is derived from the Japanese word ‘mono’ (lit. ‘things’) and ‘aware,’ which was a Heian period expression of measured surprise (similar to ‘ah’ or ‘oh’), translating roughly as ‘pathos,’ ‘poignancy,’ ‘deep feeling,’ or ‘sensitivity.’ Thus, mono no aware has frequently been translated as “the ‘ahh-ness’ of things,” life and love. The quintessentially ‘Japanese’ director Yasujiro Ozu was well known for creating a sense of mono no aware, frequently climaxing with a character saying a very understated ‘ii tenki desu ne’ (‘It is fine weather, isn’t it?’), after both a familial and societal paradigm shift, such as daughter being married off, against the backdrop of a swiftly changing Japan.

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