Mono no aware.

Posted: March 17, 2011 in musings

In deference to the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan last week, I’m writing this down. I was surfing through online material on what had happened, when I chanced upon a photo essay in Foreign Policy entitled, “Land of Disaster”. It was in one of those pages that I discovered the Japanese term “mono no aware”, which translates to “an empathy toward things”, “a sensitivity to ephemera” or the notion that transience brings about its own beauty. For a land that is prone to disasters, the appreciation for impermanence (coupled I suppose with sweet, languishing melancholy that seems to underlie Japanese literature I’ve encountered) is greatly part of their cultural psyche.

Such appreciation for all things ephemeral is captured in this poem:

Still things moving,
firm becomes unfirm,
land like ocean waves,
house like a boat —
a time to be fearful,
but to delight as well;
no wind, yet the wind-bells
keep on ringing.

-Kokan Shiren (1278-1346)

Mucha fuerza, Japan. Much has been said about the resilience and the national pride of its people. No doubt that they will find it in themselves to overcome this.

(Also, “mono no aware” is a good idea for a tattoo. Along with “saudade” and “dulcius ex asperis”.)

  1. Skytalker says:

    i think i first encountered mono no aware in will ferguson’s generica (later renamed to happinessTM). it has several untranslatables.

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