“In Praise of Shadows” by Tanizaki Junichiro Essay

August 17, 2021 by Essay Writer

Tanizaki Junichiro’s In Praise of Shadows is a lovely essay on traditional Japanese aesthetics in contrast with the perceived modern western aesthetics. The Japanese writer draws comparisons between the traditional Japanese values and Western culture. He uses light and darkness to contrast the difference in aesthetics between the two conflicting civilizations. Tanizaki’s essay is an expression of personal views on a whole range of cultural issues. The essay is essentially elaborate cultural notes describing the conflicting shadows of traditional Japanese values and the light of western influenced modern age. The writer clearly explains and differentiates between the values of beauty, gleam and shine (Joshua 33).

Tanizaki’s essay shows the extent to which the 20th century Japanese society has gone to embrace modern inventions, and the incongruous efforts to blend such inventions with the traditional architecture. The writer describes how his own unsuccessful attempts to tastefully combine western electric light with traditional Japanese architecture failed to bring either the anticipated comfort of modernity or the dignity of the past. It appears from his essay that prior to 20th century, the traditional Japanese aesthetics is an aesthetic of concealment and revelation. The quality of beauty of life according to the writer lies in concealing a lot and revealing a little.

The writer applies his concepts of revealing a little on all aspects of life and believes that traditional aesthetic has a lot to teach us about light and shadow. Tanizaki admits the comfort of use and cleanliness of a western style indoor toilet as opposed to a typical un-illuminated Japanese outdoor toilet. Yet, he goes ahead to point out the perfection of the Japanese toilet which he considers more aesthetic (Richard 82). He observes that the western toilet is too shiny to inspire and argues that the dimness and quietness of a traditional Japanese toilet brings a sense of intimacy that must have inspired many haiku poets (Carolyn 52).

The observant writer again finds the beauty of carefully revealing a little (and concealing a lot) in traditional Japanese fashion, which he regrets as being lost under western floodlights (Mario 46). Tanizaki points out that in Islamic states where Sharia law is enforced, a mere glimpse of a woman’s hair or ankle is more erotic than an exposed breast could ever be in the Western world. Though he doesn’t proclaim the Japanese way superior to western ways, the writer strongly defends the traditional Japanese fashion of covering the whole body in cloth and painting white of the uncovered parts of face and hands.

Tanizaki appreciates the fact that modernism is inevitable and he agrees that the benefits of western civilization in the end outweigh the negatives. Clearly, the writer is not opposed to progress or western civilization (Alan 64).

His essay is a free judgment and expression of concerns of loss of environment that allows the rich traditional Japanese ways and natural beauty to flourish. He doesn’t in any way proclaim superiority of Japanese tradition over western culture. He only admits that each culture is unique and best suited to its respective environment. The writer laments the obsession with newness and the ever incessant and unjustifiable appetite which is often characterized by tendency to rush for all things modern and western (Grayling 90). The little book is no doubt a masterpiece that resonates with imagery, texture and poignancy of a changing world.

Works Cited

Alan, Dunn. Beauty: The Visible and the Invisible. Washington: Blackwell Publishers, 2012. Print.

Carolyn, Korsmeyer. Aesthetics: The Big Questions. New York: McGraw-Hill Press Publishers, 2013. Print.

Grayling, Audrey. Fine study of Japanese Aesthetics. Calcutta: Foundation Press Publishers, 2014. Print.

Joshua, Sowin. In Praise of Shadows: A Meditation. Cambridge: University Publishers, 2014. Print.

Mario, Perniola. The Beauty of Art and its Shadow. Oxford: University Press Publishers, 2013. Print.

Richard, Wollheim. The Nature of Art and its Objects. Washington: One World Publishers, 2012. Print.

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