I’ve found that not many people have heard of mono no aware. I’m still trying to understand it myself. But it’s about our emotional response to things and events. Being able to see, to feel, the true or deeper connection between them and our inner life. When we experience mono no aware we feel the need to express our feelings.

Chin Music Press is known for publishing beautiful books.  They strongly believe in the full book experience—as pleasurable to touch as it is to read.  Beautiful art design, high quality binding, various grains of premium paper, and a strong Japanese aesthetic are some of the hallmarks of their work.  Oh! A Mystery of ‘mono no aware’ successfully continues that tradition.  With the combination of Todd Shimoda’s inquisitive writing, Linda Shimoda’s stark artwork, and Chin Music Press’ high publishing standards, Oh! is a distinctly pleasurable read.

When I started reading Oh!, I was immediately struck by some of the similarities between the main character and myself.  Zack Hara lives in Hawaiʻi—OK, big deal.  He works in the mind-numbing profession of technical writer—hrm, a lot like my own job.  Zack feels little to no emotional resonance—ouch, shot through the heart!  (This last one is somewhat of a joke I have with Misty.  I *do* feel emotion!)

Due to the lack of emotional moments in his life, Zack Hara decides to ditch his mundane job and half-hearted girlfriend to spontaneously move to Japan in an attempt to break through his chronic numbness.  While in Japan he interacts with a variety of interesting people, including a professor who becomes his guide to discovering mono no aware.  The professor, who is dealing with his own hidden problems, forces Zack to understand his emotions by accomplishing specific tasks.  Some of these tasks include:  finding a pear-shaped stone, learn a memory of his grandfather, and committing a petty crime.

Continuing his emotional discovery on his own, Zack eventually finds himself searching for the professor’s missing daughter with the help of a romantic interest, seeking emotional enlightenment through poetry and artistic outputs, and being curiously drawn into the surreptitious world of Internet suicide clubs.

You’d think the inclusion of so many varied elements would find this story to be an erratic mess.  Is the book a missing persons case; a journey of self-discovery; a lesson in mono no aware?  However, Todd Shimoda is able to seamlessly move back and forth between these components with precise storytelling—even bordering on minimal at times—that wastes no words on unnecessary exposition.  The plot lines move quickly, as Zack may jump from task to task or town to town in a matter of pages, but the exacting chapters bear no feeling of being rushed; in fact, the story provided me with a strange sense of calm, possibly an effect of breaking up chapters with interludes concerning the topic of mono no aware—history and philosophies of the movement, poetry and techniques used, etc.

I can’t say if the story as a whole truly conveys the meaning of mono no aware, but it’s a book I would recommend trying out, especially if you have any interest in Japan. I found the story to be compelling, and the philosophy and methods to be fascinating, causing me to develop a personal interest in delving deeper into the subject of mono no aware through other Japanese works.  In summary, Oh! is a beautifully designed book, with an easy-to-read story that is engaging and laced with the deeper emotional mysteries of life and the way we as humans attempt to convey those feelings.

As an aside, whatever you do, don’t miss the epilogue!  It’s buried a few pages after some stunning artwork that truly brings the concept of mono no aware to life.  While it doesn’t have the same level of breathtaking intensity as the proper end, it does tie together an important storyline arc and provides the reader with a satisfying end to the book.

About the Author

Todd Shimoda is an accomplished author from Hawaiʻi.  In 2011, Todd was awarded with the Cades Award for an Established Artist.  He has published two popular novels that deal with Japan and Japanese themes:  365 Views of Mt. Fuji (Stone Bridge Press) and The Fourth Treasure (Nan Talese/Doubleday) which was listed as a 2002 Notable Book by the Kiriyama Prize.  You can visit the website of Todd and his wife Linda at shimodaworks.com.

Oh! A Mystery of ‘mono no aware’
By Todd Shimoda
Chin Music Press, 2009
310 pages, hardcover
ISBN: 978-0974199566