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haikaiTALKS: a saturday gathering! mono no aware

haikaiTALKS: Japanese aesthetics - a saturday gathering_under the banyan tree

host: Kala Ramesh

2nd September 2023

Japanese aesthetics: mono-no-aware

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

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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I have a request and a suggestion to make.

Can you share a haiku that employs mono-no-aware & tell your readers why you liked it and how you understood it?

Example: my poem

a falling blossom ...

the breath between what was 

and what will be 


Presence Haiku Journal – Issue # 49, Fall 2014

I'll get back with more examples soon.

First post: You search and find a haiku that 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!

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