What is mono no aware in writing?

What is the definition of mono no aware?

Mono no aware – 物の哀れ – is a Japanese term that is literally translated as “the pathos of things”. It can also be described as an “empathy toward things” or a “sensitivity to ephemera”. This means ‘mono no aware’ is to be sensitive to the ephemerality of everything. There is a kind of wistfulness to the term. A gentle, tender kind of sadness about impermanence. 

What are the origins of mono no aware?

The concept of mono no aware originates in the Heian period in Japan – 794 to 1185 – however, as a literary philosophy, it took root in the 18th century Edo period. It’s an important part of Japanese literary culture and what makes Japanese works so moving. 

What are some examples of mono no aware?

An example of this concept applied to traditional Japanese culture is the love of cherry blossoms. Cherry blossoms are loved in Japan, but it’s not necessarily because they are more beautiful than other trees. What makes cherry blossoms beautiful is their transience. 

Mono no aware is also commonly used in the haiku form of Japanese poetry. Take this example by Basho: 

A cicada’s shell

It sang itself

Utterly away

Characteristic of haiku, the poem uses natural imagery to convey seasonal transience. 

What are modern examples of mono no aware?

Mono no aware has been highly influential on the successful author Kazuo Ishiguro. He uses present, past and nostalgia and his works are permeated with this feeling. 

How can mono no aware inform my writing? 

If you’re interested in the ephemeral nature of being, you could apply the principles of mono no aware to your work. In the tradition of the device, the feeling of mono no aware is not merely to be experienced – it’s also to be shared. In the Heian period when the concept originated, writing and sharing poetry was an important part of courtly life. To get the full experience of this outlook, try to write a small piece about something transient and beautiful and choose your words very carefully. Then, share it with a friend.