Mono no aware
Mono no aware (物の哀れ?), 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.
The term was coined in the 18th 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, later applied 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 (similar to "ah" or "oh"), translating roughly as "pathos", "poignancy", "deep feeling", "sensitivity", or "awareness". Thus, mono no aware has frequently been translated as "the 'ahh-ness' of things", life, and love. 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 (see also sakura).
In contemporary culture
Notable manga artists who use mono no aware–style storytelling include Hitoshi Ashinano, Kozue Amano, and Kaoru Mori. In anime, both Only Yesterday by Isao Takahata and Mai Mai Miracle by Sunao Katabuchi emphasize the passing of time in gentle notes and by presenting the main plot against a parallel one from the past. In addition, the Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu was well known for creating a sense of mono no aware, frequently climaxing with a character very understatedly saying "Ii tenki desu ne?" (いい天気ですね?, "Fine weather, isn't it?"), after a familial and societal paradigm shift, such as a daughter being married off, against the backdrop of a swiftly changing Japan.
Science fiction author Ken Liu's short story, "Mono no Aware", won the 2013 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. Inspired by works like the science fiction manga Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō, Liu sought to evoke an "aesthetic primarily oriented towards creating in the reader an empathy towards the inevitable passing of all things", and to acknowledge "the importance of memory and continuity with the past".
British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro (author of 1989's The Remains of the Day, which was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction) ends many of his novels without any sense of resolution. The issues his characters confront are buried in the past and remain unresolved. Thus Ishiguro ends many of his novels on a note of melancholic resignation. His characters accept their past and who they have become, typically discovering that this realization brings comfort and an ending to mental anguish. This can be seen as a literary reflection of the Japanese idea of mono no aware.
- Other related terms with no direct translation in English:
- Choy Lee, Khoon. Japan: Between Myth and Reality. 1995, page 142.
- Morris, Ivan I. The World of the Shining Prince: Court Life in Ancient Japan. 1994, page 197.
- "2013 Hugo Awards".
- Mamatas, Nick. "Q/A With Ken Liu (and the return of Intern Kathleen)". Haikasoru. Retrieved 7 April 2013.
- Eisler, Barry. A Lonely Resurrection. ISBN 9781477820810.