The translation of aware as “sadness” is due more than anything to the lack of a better word, because the essence of aware suggests the experience of being deeply moved by emotions that can include joy and love, but which are always colored by the finite nature of things, or by pain. What better than cherry blossom to understand that concept?
The most frequently cited example of mono no aware in contemporary Japan is the traditional love for cherry blossom, manifested in the crowds that venture out each year to look at the Sakuras and have a picnic beneath them, and which are valued for their transitory nature. They usually begin to fall after flowering for a week and it is precisely the evanescence of their beauty that evokes the feeling of melancholy and joy of mono no aware in the observer.
Another great example (and which we especially recommend) is in the films of Ozu Yasujirō, considered the most “Japanese” of Japanese directors. In his work there are a series of memorable exercises that impeccably transmit mono no aware: Ozu expresses feelings through objects instead of actors. A jug placed in the corner of a room where a father and his son sleep; two fathers contemplating the rocks in a garden, their postures imitating the forms of the rocks, a mirror reflecting an absence… All are images that express the pathos of things.