The phrase “mono no aware” is basic to Japanese esthetics; it means, roughly, ‘the sadness of things’ and is comparable to Vergil’s famous “lacrymae rerum.” (Aware ‘pity, sadness, pathos,’ needless to say, is not pronounced like the English word; it’s three syllables, accented on the first: AH-wah-reh.) Jonathon Delacour has a thoughtful post about aware, the history of Japanese poetry, modern Japanese song, Thomas Jefferson, and other things. Go read him.


  1. i would be interested in knowing if this
    phrase was coined in contrast to some other
    concept in Chinese aesthetics, & if so,
    what. also, the era of its origin is
    significant. –conclusions reached from
    expanding on the attempts of Western
    translators to come up with an equivalent
    in English,i would tend to be wary of.

  2. Follow the first link and you’ll get the basic history:
    The most influential of the kokugakushu was Motoori Norinaga (1730-1801), a literary and linguistic scholar. He invented the crucial concept of mono no aware to define the essential of Japanese and Japanese culture… Motoori wanted to show that the unique character of Japanese culture (and he considered Japanese culture to be the “head” of the world; other nations were the “body”) was the capacity to experience the objective world in a direct and unmediated fashion, to understand sympathetically the objects and the natural world around one without resorting to language or other mediators. The Japanese could understand the world directly in identifying themselves with that world; in addition, the Japanese could use language to directly express that connection to the world.

  3. Accent on the first syllable? I remember being told that (formal) Japanese was a monotone, back when I was learning it in high school. Was that bollocks, then?

  4. It was, yes. They say that to break English-speakers of their clumsy English stress accent, but Japanese has a quite clear accent (differing by dialect, with Tokyo of course the standard)—it’s just that it’s marked mainly by pitch rather than stress. The standard example is the word hana; with an accented last syllable it means ‘flower’ and with no accent it means ‘nose.’ The interesting thing is that you can’t tell them apart in isolation; if the accent is on the last syllable, it only becomes apparent with a following particle, because the high pitch of the accent has to contrast with a following low pitch. Thus hana ga akai ‘his nose is red’ has a low ha-, the rest being high, whereas haná ga akai ‘the flower is red’ has a low ha- followed by a high -na-, and then the rest of the phrase is low again, leaving the accented as an isolated peak, making the accent clear. This works for monosyllables as well; unaccented hi means ‘day; sun’ but accented it means ‘fire.’ Hope this makes sense.

  5. Hope this makes sense.
    Sure does, thanks! I had always supposed that (apparent) homonyms in Japanese were resolved by context.
    Also, I have been saying “nose-viewing” all these years. *blush*

  6. The phrase may have originated with Norinaga, but surely the concept is visible long before then? The way the summary ends “This concept became the central aesthetic concept …” definitely suggests otherwise, but it can be seen, for example, in Kenko’s Essays in Idleness (about not entirely irrelevant aspects of which I’ve blogged a bit).

  7. An interesting post; here‘s a link that works.

  8. Are there any Japanese lexicons that record accent? (While we’re on the subject, I should plug Halperin’s Kanji Dictionary, which has the most sensible look-up system for kanji that I’ve seen. Sorry I don’t have a good bibliographic reference handy. It’s a great big white thing.)

  9. Sure. The Kenkyusha dictionaries do it (at least the one I’ve got), and so does the Living Language Common Usage Dictionary (a wonderfully compact book, only in romanization, with accents in both the J-E and E-J sections); I’m sure there are others. In googling the latter, I ran across this page, with useful information about lexicographical aids, including a website I’m going to post about. So thanks for asking!

  10. My Kenkyusha (a biblically-floppy thick tome in magisterial black) is from 1937 and lacks any indication of accent. Also, my aging eyes have trouble with the microscopic size of the kanji and kana in the example sentences. I should quit being such a piker and shell out for a new one, right?

  11. 1937! You’re worse than I am. Well, I’d suggest going to a bookstore and checking the available dictionaries to see if any have the accents (maybe you can “look inside the book” on Amazon as well). When I get home I’ll try to remember to give you the details on the edition I’ve got.

  12. I’ve been looking for the correct kanji translation of “mono no aware” but can’t be sure which of the 2 I’ve found are truly correct. Is there any help you can provide? My computer cannot read kanji so I need to find an image file of it…

  13. I am exploring the root language(s) of Japanese- could there be any connection to Sanskrit

  14. >
    And so, I discover 2 years after this conversation took place, have I.

  15. And as to the kanji for momo no aware

  16. Oops I meant moNo in my previous post … not momo no aware, although the sadness of peaches is an interesting concept

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