Mono no aware is derived from the Japanese mono (物), which means "thing", and aware (哀れ), which translates roughly as "poignancy," "deep feeling," "sensitivity," or "awareness."
The term was coined in the 18th century by the Japanese literary scholar Motoori Norinaga, who originally used it in his analysis of "The Tale of Genji," a seminal, Heian period novel by Murasaki Shikibu.
Rich with poetic metaphors of longing, passion and sadness,
"The Tale of Genji" is regarded as a quintessential mono no aware work of art -- the word aware appears a total of 1,044 times on its pages.
Norinaga saw this mood as being at the very centre of Japanese culture, encapsulating the pathos derived from awareness of the fleeting, impermanent nature of life.
Recognition of the transience of life is a central tenet of Buddhism. It elevates this acceptance of the impermanence into an aesthetic sensibility.
Even though there is an element of sadness present in mono no aware, this melancholy is suffused with a quiet rejoicing in the fact that we had a chance to witness the beauty of life, however fleetingly.
In Zen, the pre-eminent symbol of mono no aware are cherry blossoms, whose fragile beauty captures our attention so briefly during sakura season. Our appreciation of their beauty is heightened by the awareness of its transiency.