In Praise of Shadows

In Praise of Shadows

In Praise of Shadows

Book I read: Lob des Schatten Manesse Verlag Zuerich, translation by Eduard Klopfenstein

Book I refer to: In Praise of Shadows
Sora Books, translation by Gregory Starr 2017, illustrated edition.

First published on 1977 (English)
By Junichiro Tanizaki / Sora Books
81 Pages
$ 8.78


Junichiro Tanizaki was one of Japan’s greatest twentieth-century novelists. Born in 1886 in Tokyo, his first published work – a one-act play – appeared in 1910 in a literary magazine he helped to found. Tanizaki lived in the cosmopolitan Tokyo area until the earthquake of 1923, when he moved to the Kyoto-Osaka region and became absorbed in Japan’s past. All his most important works were written after 1923, among them Some Prefer Nettles (1929), The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi (1935), several modern versions of The Tale of Genji (1941, 1954 and 1965), The Makioka Sisters, The Key (1956) and Diary of a Mad Old Man (1961). He was awarded an Imperial Award for Cultural Merit in 1949 and in 1965 he was elected an honorary member of the American Academy and the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the first Japanese writer to receive this honor. Tanizaki died later that same year.
Source: Penguin Books Limited


  • Foreword
    • In Praise of Shadows (originally without titled sub-chapters)
    • On construction
    • The toilet aesthetic
    • A different course
    • A novelist‘s daydreams
    • On paper, tin, and dirt
    • Candlelight and lacquerware
    • Bowls of broth
    • The enigma of shadows
    • An uncanny silence
    • Reflections in darkness
    • Shadows on the stage
    • The woman of old
    • Beauty in the dark
    • A world of shadows
    • A cool breeze in total darkness
    • Final grumblings
  • Afterword

I found this book while doing some research on Japanese gardens. I am always keen to understand Japanese aesthetics better, to understand how Japanese gardens could evolve as a special form of art.

While I usually read books about Japanese gardens in English, I ordered this book in German and already apologize if terms I used are not translated like this in the English version, which I don‘t own.

The praise of shadows is exactly what the title states: an essay about shadows and their importance to the Japanese culture. The whole text is a comparison of Western aesthetics and Japanese aesthetics, which has to be read in the context of that time, else it sounds very racist while I am sure it actually isn‘t meant like this. Maybe the new translation of 2017 got rid of some of the very explicit sentences.
However, I think that this work is an important tool to get to understand the traditional Japanese architecture and art.

Tanizaki explains in detail why traditional Japanese houses are, compared to houses in the western world, relatively dark inside and how this helped to refine the Japanese art in a way that it looks especially beautiful in a dark environment. Following this, the traditional Japanese pieces of art can‘t show their whole potential and beauty in completely lighten up exhibition rooms!

Especially interesting was one paragraph about the moon-viewing happening in September and how the modern world actually destroyed the traditional way to celebrate it: „When we pushed off of the shore, […] glittering garlands of light were shining all around the pond, and although the moon was in the sky, it was as if it did not exist.“

Another paragraph which got my interest was the following: „But why is it good in summer, for example, to light the lights by daylight? Which is not just a waste, but also causes an increase in heat. […] If it is cool outside but hot inside, it is almost without exception related to the excessive intensity of light […]. If you try to delete a part, it will be much fresher […].
With the use of LED, the problem with heat through lights is a solved problem but I believe that we still have a similar problem in Tokyo thanks to the over-use of air conditioners where some trees or bamboo around houses could have the same effect.

This whole book left me thinking about the traditional Japanese aesthetics and the beauty in shadow almost every day and showed me how different my own way of thinking is compared to the thinking of the people during the Meiji and previous eras. It already taught me that there is still a long way to walk to understand the beauty of Japanese art and gardens to its fullest!

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In Praise of Shadows (1977 edition)
Author: Junichiro Tanizaki
Price: $9.32
Rating: 4.5 stars
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Lob des Schattens: Entwurf einer japanischen Ästhetik (German)
Author: Junichiro Tanizaki
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Rating: 4.5 stars
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Snow Country
Author: Yasunari Kawabata
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Japanese Design: Art, Aesthetics & Culture
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