Mono-no-aware says that beauty is subjective, and it’s our sensitivity to the world around us that makes it beautiful. In particular, the transience of the physical world and our awareness that beauty is impermanent makes us appreciate it more. The epitome of mono-no-aware is the sight of cherry blossom petals falling in the springtime
Literally “the pathos of things”, and also translated as “an empathy toward things”, or “a sensitivity to ephemera”, is a Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence (無常, mujō), or transience of things, and both a transient gentle sadness (or wistfulness) at their passing as well as a longer, deeper gentle sadness about this state being the reality of life. “Mono-no aware: the ephemeral nature of beauty – the quietly elated, bittersweet feeling of having been witness to the dazzling circus of life – knowing it can last. It’s basically about being both saddened by and appreciative of transience and also about the relationship of the four very distinct seasons, and you really become aware of life and mortality and transience. You become aware of how significant those moments are.
The term comes from Heian period literature, but was picked up and used by 18th century Edo period Japanese cultural scholar Motoori Norinaga in his literary criticism of The Tale of Genji, and later to other seminal Japanese works including the Man’yōshū. It became central to his philosophy of literature and eventually to Japanese cultural tradition.
The phrase is derived from the Japanese word mono (物), which means “thing”, and aware (哀れ), which was a Heian period expression of measured surprise, translating roughly as “pathos”, “poignancy”, “deep feeling”, “sensitivity”, or “awareness”. Awareness of the transience of all things heightens appreciation of their beauty, and evokes a gentle sadness at their passing. In his criticism of The Tale of Genji Motoori noted that mono no aware is the crucial emotion that moves readers. Its scope was not limited to Japanese literature, and became associated with Japanese cultural tradition.