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haikaiTALKS: a saturday gathering! 30th december - mono-no-aware

haikaiTALKS: Japanese aesthetics - mono-no-aware- a saturday gathering_under the banyan tree

host: Kala Ramesh

30th December 2023

haikaiTALKS: a saturday gathering_under the banyan tree

Japanese aesthetics: mono-no-aware

Pronounced as a-waa-re (like in Hindi.)

We are repeating this page, for I feel we need two weeks and more to assimilate and try out various ways of understanding this beautiful concept.

Yeah! Another exciting week ahead!!

Mono no aware: the Pathos of Things

The meaning of the phrase mono no aware is complex and has changed over time, but it basically refers to a “pathos” (aware) of “things” (mono), deriving from their transience. In the classic anthology of Japanese poetry from the eighth century, Manyōshū, the feeling of aware is typically triggered by the plaintive calls of birds or other animals. It also plays a major role in the world’s first novel, Murasaki Shikibu’s Genji monogatari (The Tale of Genji), from the early eleventh century. The somewhat later Heike monogatari (The Tale of the Heike Clan) begins with these famous lines, which clearly show impermanence as the basis for the feeling of mono no aware:

The sound of the Gion shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all things; the color of the sōla flowers reveals the truth that the prosperous must decline. The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night; the mighty fall at last, they are as dust before the wind. (McCullough 1988).

And here is Kenkō on the link between impermanence and beauty: “If man were never to fade away like the dews of Adashino, never to vanish like the smoke over Toribeyama, how things would lose their power to move us! The most precious thing in life is its uncertainty” (Keene, 7). The acceptance and celebration of impermanence goes beyond all morbidity, and enables full enjoyment of life:

How is it possible for men not to rejoice each day over the pleasure of being alive? Foolish men, forgetting this pleasure, laboriously seek others; forgetting the wealth they possess, they risk their lives in their greed for new wealth. But their desires are never satisfied. While they live they do not rejoice in life, but, when faced with death, they fear it—what could be more illogical? (Keene, 79).

Insofar as we don’t rejoice in life we fail to appreciate the pathos of the things with which we share our lives. For most of us, some of these things, impermanent as they are, will outlast us—and especially if they have been loved they will become sad things: “It is sad to think that a man’s familiar possessions, indifferent to his death, should remain long after he is gone” (Keene, 30).

The most frequently cited example of mono no aware in contemporary Japan is the traditional love of cherry blossoms, as manifested by the huge crowds of people that go out every year to view (and picnic under) the cherry trees. The blossoms of the Japanese cherry trees are intrinsically no more beautiful than those of, say, the pear or the apple tree: they are more highly valued because of their transience since they usually begin to fall within a week of their first appearance. It is precisely the evanescence of their beauty that evokes the wistful feeling of mono no aware in the viewer.

Notes taken from Britannica and other sources.

Keiko Izawa has this to add:

According to a a Japanese philosopher, Tetsuro Watsuji, Mono no aware is essentially a fundamental longing for eternity in impermanence. It cannot be judged by the intellect or reason, but can only be felt with heart and intuition. One of the most representative symbols is the Japanese cherry blossom. They are beautiful, but fall within 3 to 5 days after blooming.

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Example: my poem

a falling blossom ...

the breath between what was 

and what will be 


Presence Haiku Journal – Issue # 49, Fall 2014

Points to ponder:

The notes say: Mono no aware refers to “pathos” (aware) of “things” (mono), deriving from their transience.

If we say - mono no aware is beauty and pathos (the example given is cherry blossoms) then it gets clearer and we know how to understand this nuance and differentiate it from wabi sabi. 

Otherwise, it seems like both mono-no-aware and wabi-sabi are about transience, isn't it?

Does anyone have any views/reviews on this?

- Kala Ramesh


The word "sabi" refers to the unique and beautiful changes in what is generally regarded as deterioration, and "wabi" refers to the spirit of accepting and enjoying sabi, and is used as an expression of Japanese unique aesthetic sense.

Accordingly, mono no aware: pathos of things might be partly overlapped with sabi in terms of deterioration with the passage of time, but the different point is that it always entails sadness about impermanence, which we view with our aesthetic sense.

- Keiko Izawa


Adding Linda Papanicolaou's succinct expression:

I have loved the past two weeks’ prompts about mono no aware. They have totally reset my thinking as I’ve realized that all good shasei haiku have this quality: awareness of the beauty of things coupled with the pathos of knowing that neither the thing observed nor the observer will last.


First post: optional. You search and find a haiku that you think has mono no aware

You'll give your reason/s why you think it has this aesthetic nuance. Second post: This will be your first haiku with mono no aware

Third post: This will be your second haiku with mono no aware

Please give your feedback on others' commentary and poems too. _()_

Have fun! Keep writing and commenting!

307 views85 comments


From Kala Ramesh

Posted on 23-12-2023 which I'm putting it up here for all. Thank you dear posts!! Please go back to read the comments too.

Dear all, I'll be giving a two month interval for haikaiTALKS starting from Jan. We've had an intensive study of the Japanese aesthetics for the last six months and some space and time to ponder over these nuances will help us.

Replying to

Thank you Kala and Lakshmi for the update. I have learned so much from you and Keiko and Linda and all the participating poets. This space has been invaluable. I know of no other opportunity like this for the study of Japanese aesthetics in English. 🙏


4/1/24 3rd post

tourist trap

the winter wind snatches

the dog's breath

Marilyn Ashbaugh, USA

feedback welcome

Replying to



3/1/24 1st post

a bamboo flute sounds   on the path

  flowers strewn   as I walk past

Kala Ramesh

beyond the horizon beyond

Although the poem implies a joyous occasion, perhaps a wedding, I feel mono no aware is also present, especially in L2.  The strewn flowers indicate the fragility of life, its impermanence.  They are walked upon, which has the pathos of being overlooked and forgotten. The poet walks past, her life continues, but for how long (seems the implied question).


3/1/24  2nd post

(internet problems made me tardy, but appreciate the further study of mono no aware)

rev.1 Thank you, Keiko

unmended fence

      a tuft of my lost cat’s hair

left in the brush


unmended fence

      a tuft of pet hair 

left in the brush

Marilyn Ashbaugh, USA

feedback welcome

Replying to


Thank you! I appreciate your suggestion and will edit.


Post 1

frost flowers—

holding my breath

as long as I can

Adelaide B. Shaw


comments welcomed

Frost flowers, as anyone who lives in a cold climate and has leaky windows will know, are the beautiful designs frost forms inside windows. Breathe too much on them and they disappear. I don't know if this haiku shows mono no aware, but the frost is impermanent and fleeting.

Replying to

Thanks Eavanka

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