Mono no aware : もののあわれ : 物の哀れ
–> A Japanese term referring to a deep awareness and sensitivity to things and their inevitable transience.
I’ve read many different translations of this term, and as it often is with language – even the smallest differences in translation can effect the nuance of the words. Some translations I’ve found scattered across the internet include:
“awareness of things”
“empathy toward things”
“sensitivity to ephemera” (ephemera, defined by Merriam-Webster as: “things that are important or useful for only a short time : items that were not meant to have lasting value”)
When I studied Japanese literature briefly in college (it was only one semester, but it was one of my favorite classes in my entire college career), a running theme throughout both Japanese prose and poetry was impermanence, transience, or the ephemeral and fleeting nature of life.
Mono no aware is more than just a theme in Japanese literature, however. It’s a facet of Japanese ideology, and permeates many aspects of the culture itself. An appreciation for things of beauty, especially those in the natural world, is emphasized – because from the very beginning, there is the knowledge that those things of beauty will soon be gone.
The best example I can provide of this is the ever popular sakura (cherry blossom) season, which has just recently come to an end in my part of Japan. In late March or early April, the cherry blossoms start to bloom throughout the islands. It’s such a big event that there are websites where you can track the blooming schedule for every region of the country!
A ubiquitously popular activity during sakura season is Hanami, or cherry-blossom viewing. When you look at the kanji for hanami, 花見, that is literally what it breaks down to.
花 : flower 見: to see, to view
During my first hanami gathering in a local park, a Japanese friend joked to me that hanami these days is a lot less flower-viewing and a lot more of an excuse to have a big picnic with friends and get massively drunk in public. Meanwhile, a rowdy group of college students were having a drunken dance party in the background. Point taken, my friend. Point taken.
I was able to enjoy a more solitary viewing of Japanese cherry-blossoms later in the week, when I finally started running again. I fairly hibernated this winter, not wanting to face the wind or the rain or the cold, and too lazy and frugal to go to a gym. But now that the weather is nice (which, speaking of mono no aware, won’t be so for much longer), I have taken to venturing out to some various parks to get in some much needed exercise. My favorite park, because it’s usually void of people save for the occasional old person walking their dog, just so happens to have a lakeside path lined with sakura trees.
Sakura season has ended for now, but it was beautiful while it lasted. Good thing these days we have photography to forever immortalize, at least in part, some of life’s fleeting beauty.