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Mono no Aware

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"I probably just want to leave a trace of myself behind in this world."
"Summer grasses—
the only remains
of warriors' dreams."

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 (物の哀れ; 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 Versus 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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    Anime & Manga 
  • Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto is the Italian Renaissance through this lens. 16-year-old Cesare Borgia doesn't get up to the kind of destruction the title would imply. He merely observes the changing world around him, and the art and humanism sponsored by Lorenzo "The Magnificent" de'Medici, the era of openness that will end once Lorenzo is no longer there to maintain it.
  • Girls' Last Tour: The world as we know it has been destroyed by some vague apocalyptic event. Two young girls are left alone with only each other as company, as they travel around the ruins, surviving the best they can, enjoying what little creature comforts they come across, and wondering how the world around them might have been.
  • Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions! portrays Chuunibyou as something we need to grow out of, but which is beautiful for precisely that reason, and should be looked back on without shame.
  • Kino's Journey: A young teenager wanders across the world, with the self-imposed rule of only staying three days in each country she visits. Yet the world is as beautiful as it is dangerous, and she is often confronted by the uglier aspects of human nature.
  • Both Mushishi and Natsume's Book of Friends narrate gentle explorations of the supernatural with heartwarming and tearjerking results, though Mushishi is much more episodic.
  • Naruto: Extremely twisted, weaponized version by Deidara. His catchphrase is "Art is an explosion!", which is how this trope generally applies to fireworks. In Deidara's case though, he means literal explosions, some powerful enough to level a town. His art philosophy is contrasted with his partner, Sasori, who believes that true art should last forever instead.
  • 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".
  • Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou looks at the dwindling of Humanity's Earth through the eyes of a long lived Robot Girl, Alpha Hatsuseno. The story addresses it sometimes, but the underlying tragedy is usually shown through simple Slice of Life moments that, while nice, give us clues to what happened to Earth (i.e. large packs of rice explicitly referred to as uncommon, fireworks being launched are actually leftover rockets, etc).

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Sweet Bean: The central theme of the film is that your path in life is ultimately up to you, and you must be prepared to take what comes, lest you let others decide your life and waste what little of it you have.

  • 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.
  • Under Heaven: yes, Shen Tai has obtained the goodwill of the soldiers of two different armies by burying the dead from one particular battle, but this can only expect to last until the next battle.
    • Shen Tai spends most of the novel being reminded that, while he was performing his service in the west, life still went on for everyone else, even friends and family. Also, when his sister spends time at Stone Drum Mountain, one of the Kanlin leaders attempts to point out (while attempting to explain why she, like her brother, is unsuited by personality to stay there) "Who chooses their fate? Who asks to be born into the times that are theirs?" (She responds with a quote from her father: "Well, who accepts the world only as it comes to them?" The Kanlin at first think the line is "from a disciple of the Cho Master".) Finally, Sima Zian quotes part of one of his own poems, written "during the last Taguran war. Tai's father's war.":
    Bitter wind blows battle smoke
    Wild geese and cranes fly.
    Later, moon's disk on the water.
    Plum blossoms mirrored in the river
    Until they fall.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Makanai: Cooking for the Maiko House one of Momoko's mottos is the saying "ichi-go ichi-e", literally "one time, one meeting". No matter how many times she practices the same dance routine, each performance will end up different, and she says goodbye at the end of every dance. She's surprised when Kiyo displays a complementary philosophy to her cooking: so many factors might affect the dish no matter how familiar it is, and so she says hello before every meal preparation.

  • Most of the songs composed by hinayukki (AKA Shigotoshite-P) revolve around blooming flowers, withering leaves and the passing seasons, which symbolizes the ephemeral beauty of the world and life in general, and how every moment must be treasured precisely because it's so fleeting.
    • "Tsugai Kogarashi", Shigotoshite's most famous song, tells the story of the wind and the leaf fluttering together towards an uncertain future. They count each precious moment as they soar together, knowing that in this fleeting life, even the tiniest mistake could lead to death.
    • "Hana no Namida" compares life to a flower, beautiful and transient. The singers vow to spend the limited amount of time they have with their loved ones, and collect as many precious memories as possible, before they would wither like a flower themselves.
    • "Oni o Karu Mono" is about a human warrior hunting down a crimson demon. As they clash over a winter battlefield, the hunter sings of the passion he feels for the demon in the heat of the battle, all the while knowing that this intense feelings would end when one of them dies. The song ends with the hunter finally defeating and killing the demon and moves on with his life, but notes that the encounter had left a mark in his heart.
  • This is one of the major recurring themes seen in The Midnight's discography with most of their albums having a very strong focus on exploring it. Fittingly, "Mono no Aware" is also the band's official motto.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • 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.
    "An unhappy business, that, which God gave men to be concerned with! I observed all the happenings beneath the sun, and I found that all is futile and pursuit of wind."
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh is the Ur-Example, with Gilgamesh only becoming a wise king after coming to terms with his own mortality.

    Newspaper Comics 

  • Cesare - Il Creatore che ha distrutto, like its manga source material, shows Renaissance Italy through this lens. In particular, the song "Primavera", inspired by the painting by Sandro Botticelli, is about the sweet spring breeze of freedom that flows through Florence in the age of Lorenzo the Magnificent.
  • The Tempest: Prospero has a famous speech on the transitory nature of art, magic, and life:
    Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
    As I foretold you, were all spirits and
    Are melted into air, into thin air:
    And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
    The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
    And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep.
  • Tsukiuta's Yumemigusa embodies this most of all of their plays. It features Alternate Universe versions of the characters as an isekai Shinsengumi, with Arata or You as Okita. While they do fight bad guys, the real core of the story is Arata/You's illness and death, and it ends with a Died in Your Arms Tonight scene. Taiki Yamazaki, Yumemi's Arata, was Angelo in the original cast of Cesare.

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy X heavily invokes the "dream" motif when using this trope. The once futuristic city of Zanarkand of 1000 years ago is referred to as Dream Zanarkand, and the reason why it and the main character Tidus exists at all in the present is because the Greater-Scope Villain is a sorcerer who really couldn't let go of its memory and continues to invoke it even if it means letting a kaiju named Sin constantly ravage the rest of the world to defend it. When you finally meet him, he's been reduced to a literal parasite. To drive the point home, the BGM that plays when you finally reach its ruins is called "Someday the dream will end," and the final destination is Dream's End. Ironically, the end of the game has Yuna give a speech about how Sin's death means everyone can dream again, which is the game saying that impermanence is necessary for other life to flourish, and that denying impermanence only strangles the future by preventing things from changing.
  • In Genshin Impact
    • The first Archon of Inazuma, Makoto practically embodies this notion, that "things that don't last are all the more beautiful", befitting both her ideal and her nation being a Japan equivalent. Makoto's ideal of Transience is about "searching for the brief flashes of light", enjoying every moment, and continuing progress, while her twin sister, Ei picked "eternity" as a direct response to Makoto's death and the fall of Khaenri'ah, with her interpreting it as preserving everything in Inazuma as much as she could so that the tragedies that befell them would never happen again.
    • There's also Yoimiya, who belongs to the Japan equivalent of Inazuma as well. Her family has run Naganohara Fireworks for generations, and Yoimiya loves what she does. Fireworks are the embodiment of transience— they flash with a powerful bang before fizzling out, and that's exactly why Yoimiya loves them. During the fireworks show, the normally talkative Yoimiya becomes silent and gazes at the sky, taking in all the sights and sounds of the moments she knows will fade away in a moment's time so she can enjoy them to the fullest.
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Shows up in Sonic and the Black Knight. What starts off as a Universal-Adaptor Cast take on Arthurian Legend ends up turning into a metafictional take on the story where the main villain, knowing the story will end with the kingdom in ruin, intends on using her magic to create an eternal world that never changes. Sonic, in his usual snarky style, thinks that sounds pretty lame and stops her, afterwards saying that he figures everything will end someday, so we should live life to the fullest in the time we have.
  • Touhou Project:
  • Undertale, being a western game thematically inspired by several Japanese works, has elements of this in the Golden Ending.
    • According to the shopkeep Gerson, the main character's relationship with Toriel and possibly Asgore is a parental Mayfly–December Friendship due to the bio-magical traits of their species. Despite that, the choice to stay with Toriel is still depicted as an unambiguously happy one, even if it might end on a sad note in the far future.
    • The most bittersweet part of the ending pertains to Asriel Dreemurr who will soon lose his true form and his ability to feel love. Despite that, this character takes their imminent fate in stride, and despite not having much time to spend with the main character, still considers them a friend and wishes for them to do the same.
      Asriel: ...I just want you to remember me like this. Someone that was your friend for a little while.
  • In Ghost of Tsushima, the achievement for completing the game is called "Mono no Aware", fittingly how Jin accepts that his old ways of fighting are gone by confronting his Uncle Shimura, and moving on to his new mantle as the ghost.
  • Discussed in the "Jetstream" DLC of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, in which Senator Armstrong states that while he often hears politicians talk about how fleeting and beautiful cherry blossoms are, he instead finds the idea of transient beauty revolting due to it going against his personal philosophy.
  • One of the central themes of What Remains of Edith Finch is that life is short, so you should enjoy it while you can. Being about family members dying in various ways, often so that it could have been avoided, you would think that it's a very dark story. Yet, the overall tone is rather bright, almost light-hearted.

  • minus. has this aesthetic, being very wistful throughout. The title character’s powers seem to just represent childhood and how one isn’t permitted to act like that past a certain age, rather than being any serious attempt at a fantasy story. And then the world ends, and the melancholy gets Exaggerated. Even minus and her best friend are affected at the very end.
  • In Questionable Content, when Hannelore found herself mulling over the idea of quantum vacuum decay and how the universe could spontaneously end at any time. Dora comforted her with the idea that, even if that is the case, all things are impermanent regardless, and that at least there's beauty in the time it's around.
    Dora: Like, nothing lasts forever. We get old and die, the earth becomes uninhabitable, eventually the sun burns out... Why should the universe be exempt? Maybe the entirety of existence is just the rainbow film on the surface of a soap bubble. The bubble pops, the rainbow is gone. But it was beautiful while it was there.

    Web Original 
  • The God of Arepo: The god's domain is ephemeral and liminal things — "the momentary glimpses". Arepo declares them all beautiful.
    The god: The first hint of frost before the first snow falls. The skin of an apple as it yields beneath your teeth. I am the god of a dozen different nothings. The petals in bloom that lead to rot, the momentary glimpses. A change in the air— Before it's gone.
    Arepo: Beautiful. All of them. They were all so beautiful.