In Praise of Shadows – Jun’ichiro Tanizaki

July 24, 2009 § 4 Comments

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This was a book on the list of suggested readings during my first year Studio. Having read and enjoyed it so much while reading it in the library, I decided not too long after that to buy myself a copy of this simple yet inspiring book. Since then, this is the third time I’m reading it.

I have not read any other books by Tanizaki as yet, though I plan to make trips to the local library on the mission to seek his other works. From the degree of satisfaction I was able to derive from reading this book, I have little doubt that I would also enjoy his other writings.

This book is in actual fact, not a book in the general meaning of the word. It reads more as a long essay on Japanese culture. Or perhaps, to be more precise, the lost culture of Japan.

I decided to pick this book up for the third time in two years after reading Tan Twan Eng’s book, The Gift of Rain. In that book, as I had mentioned, the philosophy of relationship between light and shadow is central to Japanese culture, and here in this writing, it is accentuated even more.

Tanizaki does not hesitate to point out the various ‘improvements’ in Japan that have in no uncertain terms aided in the dying out of the more traditional and subtle Japanese tastes. That shadows upon shadows, once so dignified, should now be shunned upon is something that I, someone unfamiliar with the culture, can only feel sadness in its disappearance, and my lost chance of experiencing what I find most intriguing.

For someone like myself who finds endless fascination with the traditions of playing with light and shadows, of celebrating subtleties and of a world so separate from the world we live in today, this book is like a god-sent. It reveals to me the beauty in things not seen, and provides me with the assurance that there was once a time when people were less obsessed with materialism, brightness and all things that shine, and more concerned with the aesthetics of the senses and richness of the soul.

Conclusion: This piece of writing has introduced to me a world of endless possibilities, and is definitely a book which I have no regrets buying. Reading and re-reading this over and over again does not seem tireless in any way, but provides more insight and exposes itself little by little through every re-reading, like the skin of the onion, slowly revealing itself through its many many layers.

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§ 4 Responses to In Praise of Shadows – Jun’ichiro Tanizaki

  • Sakura says:

    What a lovely review. I’m currently reading Naomi by Tanizaki for the Japanese Literary Challenge 3 and finding it very absorbing. Tanizaki is a master of Japanese literature but he was also considered very modern in his time. I also have his Makioka Sisters which I think is one of his most famous novels about three sisters in Kyoto, but I have yet to read it.

    I’m finding your blog and your choice of reading very interesting!

    • su says:

      Thanks for your comment. =)

      I have yet to read any other of Tanizaki’s work at this point, but I’ll be very interested in reading your review of Naomi.

      And I’m glad you enjoy my blog. I look forward to your comments very much. 🙂

  • Mel u says:

    I will for sure buy and read this book soon-I am near to reading all of his English translations now-I see Tanizaki as one of the very best 20th century novelists-you might enjoy Quicksand next

    • Michelle says:

      I’ve been meaning to read another Tanizaki for so long. It’s frustrating that this is the only book of his that I’ve read, but I already know that I want to read more of him. I’ll keep Quicksand in mind.

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