Mono no Aware

Summer grasses—
the only remains
of warriors' dreams.
Matsuo Bashou

All things in life are fragile and impermanent. Everything we love is doomed to fade... but at the same time, isn't that what makes it beautiful?

An aesthetic first popularized by the 18th century scholar Motoori Norinaga, Mono no Aware (often translated as "the ahh-ness of things") is a kind of wistful sadness that would come to be considered the Central Theme of Japanese art, and one of the pillars of Japanese identity. Cherry Blossoms, the national symbol of Japan, are considered to embody this sentiment — blooming for a short time in vibrant colours before falling away. This also extends to the seasons in general, leading to the heavy emphasis of seasonal motifs in Japanese poetry. Because it is so short-lived, Mono no Aware considers childhood to be beautiful, which may go a way to explaining Kawaisa culture and the tendency of Japanese works to portray (non-active) paedophilia as a character flaw rather than an outright villainous trait.

On the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism Mono no Aware tends towards the idealistic, while in the conflict of Romanticism Versus Enlightenment it falls somewhere in the middle, embracing change while mourning the past.

Stories built on Mono no Aware rarely have big, climactic endings, and are more likely to be bittersweet or fizzle out gently.

Compare The Anti-Nihilist, Bathos and Martyrdom Culture. Contrast They Changed It, Now It Sucks, The Fatalist, Mortality Phobia and Nostalgia Filter. See also UsefulNotes.Buddhism and It Can't Be Helped.

Tropes associated with Mono no Aware

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Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In the anime adaptation of Shaman King, this is Hao's motivation. To remedy the sorrows of a changing world, he plans to destroy the past and the future, creating only "a neverending stream of now".

    Literature 
  • The Tale of Genji is one of the most famous examples of Mono no Aware, with the term entering the popular lexicon primarily because of Motoori Norinaga's use of it in his analysis of the story.

    Religion and Mythology 
  • From The Bible, the author of the Book of Ecclesiastes seems to take this view. Everything created by human hands is doomed to be forgotten, but at the same time the world isn't actually getting worse so you should make peace with it and enjoy the simple pleasures of life.
    "What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind."
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh is the Ur-Example, with Gilgamesh only becoming a wise king after coming to terms with his own mortality.

    Video Games 

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