Mono no Aware: The Transience of Life
By: Taylor Bond
January 18, 2017
The concept of mono-no-aware originated from traditional Japanese religion and has its roots embedded in Shinto beliefs, yet it was also influenced by Buddhist principles. Shintoism, which exists for the most part entirely in Japan, aims to cultivate an increased awareness of the individual in relation to the surrounding environment, and it stresses an openness and sensitivity to the energy present in the world. Later on, the introduction of Buddhism in Japan focused this belief on the transient nature of the environment and everything that exists within it. From here, the focus shifted simply from awareness to a deeper appreciation of the beauty and aesthetic value of change. The overall impact of the aesthetic principle is to recognize the impermanence of everything that exists and create a deeper connection with it because of its fleeting nature.
This sentiment is expressed continuously in Japanese society, and in my opinion, is an idea that Western society often lacks. In my own personal experience, people (myself included) harbor the desire to cling on to the way things are, or once were, instead of understanding that change and brevity are essential to life. In movies, we desire the happy endings, a neat and tidy outcome that can remain static: the guy gets the girl; the kingdom is saved; life is forever paused in a moment of blissful (and unrealistic) content. Japanese media, in comparison, can often end with people fading out of each other’s lives, despite once being an integral part of them, and audiences are completely satisfied with this narrative. In Japanese, there are countless untranslatable phrases that can crudely be summed up to “people arrive in your life and then leave” or “the instantaneous nature of life should be treasured.” This year, I have made countless friendships that, once my time in Japan ends, will never be able to continue in exactly the same way that they exist now. The people I greet every morning, the people who have seen me in poor shape on the streets of Shinjuku, the ones who have handled my at times barbaric personality, the ones who have remained by my side the entire time, will return to their own countries and their own, separate lives. This thought, if I chose to consider it long enough, is depressing. But despite that, I’ve had the opportunity to experience them, something that never would have occurred if I hadn’t invoked change myself.
It boils down to this: appreciate the moment, because the beauty experienced in it will never be the same. It will pass. It will end. And that is okay because as life changes, new beauty, perhaps of a different kind, will arrive. Every season the cherry blossoms die. But every year, they come back to, once again, coat the streets in their ethereal and incomparable demise.