What Japanese Reverence For The Seasons Can Teach You About A Joyful Life

Photo: chanchai duangdoosan / Shutterstock
japan cherry blossoms with mount fuji

What is ‘mono no aware’?

When I first moved to Japan, I didn’t quite understand the attention placed on the seasons.

People talked about the changing seasons over tea, during phone calls, and even in emails like it was gossip: The coming and going of sakura season, the subsequent onset of the rainy season, the humid yet peaceful hot summer nights, the build-up around the chill of autumn and changing leaves, or the charm of silent winter snow. These conversations were ubiquitous, no matter who I spoke to.

And while I was never dismissive of the importance of taking the time to value nature, sometimes the attention felt really over the top. Why were people so preoccupied with the seasons?

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I later realized that it’s not necessarily the seasons themselves that move so many Japanese, but it is how these shifting seasons serve as reminders of the natural impermanence of life.

Often referred to as mono no aware, the phrase encapsulates the bittersweet realization that nothing is made to last forever. How we seem to be growing older faster with every passing year and the fleeting nature of our most precious memories, this bittersweet balance and nostalgia for the past are what people treasure.

A strange sense of satisfaction in what makes the moment beautiful is that it is only temporary.

Mono no aware can be translated as a melancholic feeling, but most Japanese would profess that it’s not simply about being sad.

With it, there is a strong sense of gratitude, appreciation for the moment, and a strange sense of satisfaction in what makes the moment beautiful is that it is only temporary. It’s melancholy, but it’s also joy.

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Impermanence is bittersweet, but it’s what makes life worthwhile. For when we don’t appreciate life as fleeting, we allow ourselves to become distracted, and when we are always distracted, we can never find the time to pay attention to the things that actually bring us joy.

We become comfortable spending hours on social media, the regime of work, worrying about the future, and becoming preoccupied with comparing ourselves to others.

If you’re always distracted, you’ll never have the time to think about the things that actually bring you joy.

But when life’s joys are impermanent, there is little time for that.

We pay attention to the laughter in our house. We remember the good food we ate. We feel gratitude for the comfort of our bed, and the presence of good weather.

The seasons will change, for life is impermanent.

Take the time to enjoy it now.

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Kaki Okumuru is a Japanese writer, with a focus on a Japanese healthy lifestyle. She was born in Dallas, Texas, and shortly after moved to New York where I spent a few years until I moved to Tokyo when I was 12. Using the lessons I’ve learned from and experienced in both my Japanese and Western upbringing, I work to help others shape healthy, sustainable, and fulfilling lifestyle paths toward better living.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.