The Japanese have built their tradition and way of thinking over time, often in isolation, or because of influences coming from China. For this reason their sense of beauty is philosophically different. For the Japanese, beauty stems from traditional arts and practices, mono no aware, ma and wabi-sabi. Today we will talk about mono no aware, which is perhaps the most difficult of these concepts to understand.
A Japanese woman, captain of her university archery club, explained that mono no aware represents “a feeling that people have when their heart is moved, like happiness, sadness, loneliness, impression, and emotion.” This understanding of beauty, she says, derives from the Heian Period (794 to 1192 AD).
Davies and Ikeno (The Japanese Mind) define aware as “representative of the Japanese sense of beauty…it is a term of great subtlety.” It is the idea of “appreciating something that is regarded as worthless.”
For example, the sakura (Japanese cherry blossoms) are beautiful, to many westerners, while they are blooming on their branches. However, the feelings of aware surface when these blossoms are wilting or falling from the tree.
So mono no aware carries with it feelings of appreciation, thoughtfulness, yet it often carries a sadness or regret with it too, and a feeling of simply being moved emotionally.
Today many older Japanese are aware of their tradition and understand aware and ma, but many young Japanese are just interested in Western beauty and culture and the sense of Japanese beauty may be disappearing.
Do you have any thoughts, questions, or experience with aware?
The Japanese Mind, edited by Roger J. Davies and Osamu Ikeno