Review: In Praise of Shadows

Review: In Praise of Shadows

Author: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki

Genre: Nonfiction, Japan, Essays, Philosophy

Pages: 56

Publisher: Leete’s Island Books

First Published: Dec 1, 1977

An essay on aesthetics by the Japanese novelist, this book explores architecture, jade, food, and even toilets, combining an acute sense of the use of space in buildings. The book also includes descriptions of laquerware under candlelight, and women in the darkness of the house of pleasure.

I came across this translated essay when it was referenced in an article about the aesthetics of Japanese Horror versus Western horror. It is a stream of consciousness narrative written with pessimism towards the loss of traditional Japanese culture and aesthetics to the modernizing influence of the West.

It’s beautifully written. It feels like a gothic love letter to the mystery of things cast into shadows, be it a woman darkly clothed so only her face catches the illumination of candlelight or the play of shadows in a forest. As a lover of both Japanese culture and the things that dwell in shadows, this was a wonderful read.

I thought of the traditional tatami mat rooms I saw in Japan. The glint of guilded Buddha idols in recessed alcoves in heavily shadowed temples. The dance of a Sakura tree in the moonlight. There is a fragility in admiring the beauty of these things because as a Westerner, my instinct is to brighten the statue to fully admire the work of the sculpture. It is also difficult to admire the night sky without the glare of light pollution except in the most remote of locations.

I imagine Tanizaki-sensei would be depressed in the changes in the Japanese skyline of the 2000s if he disheartened by what he saw in the 1930s.

I recommend giving this essay a read if you are interested in understanding a small part ofJapanese aesthetics.

5 of 5