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In Praise of Shadows

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  13,952 ratings  ·  1,264 reviews
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.
Paperback, 56 pages
Published December 1st 1977 by Leete's Island Books (first published 1933)
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Sep 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, japanese
The preference for a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance.


My quiet, soothingly minimalist room seems of no consequence when juxtaposed with the unearthly beauty that Jun'ichirō Tanizaki described in this splendid essay on aesthetics.

A shōji. Lightning. Electric fans. The right heating system. Architecture. Food.
Every detail to avoid the disruption of harmony in a Japanese room.
An almost imperceptible line between an extremely refine taste and the subtlety of irony.

We delight in the mere
Dec 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: art, china-japan-asia
We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.

This is a fascinating, surprising, occasionally amusing essay that lauds and explains traditional Japanese aesthetics relating to light and its absence. It’s applied to architecture, music, writing, the costumes of theatres and temples, women, and food. It contrasts Japanese principles with the western ones
Jul 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Dolors by: Cristina
Shelves: read-in-2015, asian
A delightful essay on the ethos of Japanese aesthetics, its “frigid elegance” and its ancestral raison d’etre. Thanks to Tanizaki’s unadorned yet carefully layered prose I start to grasp the importance of natural materials like worn-out wood or paper lanterns, or the preference for dim lighted rooms and tarnished tableware that lack the aggressive glitter of metal or the aseptic whiteness of tiles of modern houses. It’s in the musky darkness that shrouds the bare room, devoid of artificial ornam ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: にほん
“We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.”

** Kage-e illustrations - Japanese shadow art from the Edo period (woodblock print)

Have you ever stomped on your shadow, trying to hold its torso with your feet? The subtle chase between you and the devious shadow; toughening with every stomp on the dried grey asphalt while queries of whether you have lost your marbles looming in the humid air. Deer pra
Steven Godin
In this delightful essay Junichiro Tanizaki looks at Japanese aesthetics, and selects praise for all things delicate and nuanced, everything softened by shadows, and the patina of age, anything understated and simply natural, for instance the patterns of grain in old wood, the sound of rain falling from leaves, or washing over the footing of a stone lantern in a garden, and refreshing the moss that grows around it, and by doing so he suggests an attitude of appreciation and mindfulness, especial ...more
Susan Budd
Aug 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Susan by: Akemi G
In this little book, Junichiro Tanizaki helped me understand why I ~ a thorough Westerner, NYC born & bred ~ am so drawn to the Japanese aesthetic. He begins his essay with an example I can totally relate to. Many Japanese people take pains to hide electrical wires because they don’t want to spoil the beauty of the traditional decor. I so get this. I wish I could hide all my electrical wires too. There are so many of them, not to mention all the LED lights from appliances that once were luxuries ...more
Jul 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
The quality that we call beauty must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty's ends

(If you don't have time to read the whole of my review, go ahead and skip the next two paragraphs)

There is a practice essay prompt in the US College Board's guide to the SAT book that goes something like "Do changes that make our lives easier always make them better?". This is o
howl of minerva
Jan 10, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: art-architecture
Sort of a Japanese Grandpa Simpson. Kids these days, no respect. Art these days, total crap. Food these days, inedible. It's all go go go. It's all electric lights and gramophones. What happened to sitting in the dark, poking yourself in the eye with a stick? Kids are too good for that now. Things were so much better before refrigeration and antibiotics. People used to have time for things, people used to care, people used to have pride. Bla bla bla. Said every generation ever. Bonus star for br ...more

The quality that we call beauty ... must always grow from the realities of life.

In Praise of Shadows,
written by the well known Japanese novelist Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (1886-1965) in 1933, is a particularly charming and discursive rumination on the differences between Japanese (indeed, East Asian) and occidental aesthetics (among other matters). It is also an illustration of the differences between the Japanese tradition of zuihitsu ("to follow the brush"), of which In Praise of Shadows is a mo
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 20th-century
A backward, reactionary, nationalistic prose piece disguised as an essay on aesthetics, which engages in strange speculation and musing that is not at all well supported. But it gets better towards the end when its cantankerousness and hyperbole get amusing, and it does ultimately manage to express a mournful nostalgia for a dying aesthetic, even if that aesthetic is more of a personal aesthetic than the author admits, rather than being an expression of national character.


The aesthetic can b
Mar 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Micha and Desi
Shelves: asian, read-2009
In the west people tend to emphasize light in their environment... big windows, skylights. Shiny, gleaming surfaces are important and appear clean and fresh. Tanizaki wrote this short book to explain the importance of shadow and darkness in oriental culture... shadows that have been chased away with the welcomed technology of the west.

This is an essay on the aesthetics of shadows, on some of the differences between the west and the east. Tanizaki's text flows from one topic to another almost dre
Dec 31, 2008 rated it did not like it
If Tanizaki had written this book from a Westerner's perspective, the essay would be regarded as retrograde and pessimistically nostalgic. To be sure, only a highly-evolved culture is capable of a reciprocal relationship between production and appreciation. A wholesale dismissal of progress, however, is no way to get there. Tanizaki's rejectionist attitude is a perfect one to adopt if you're interested in sabotaging your potentially sensitive, agreeable, harmonic future. ...more
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I always like a book that changes the way I see the world. As a Westerner who likes LIGHT more LIGHT, this praise of shadows, the dusky atmosphere of the past and architecture which protects and conceals, where mystery is held, reborn, is a peripheral vision of existence I'd never imagined. It's been a year or so since I read it--but I still recall his image of enamelwork which is garish and awful in broad daylight, but has incredible beauty and charm in low light--which is not a defect, as we w ...more
Vlad Kovsky
Although this book is primarily about aesthetics, I cannot entirely avoid mentioning the historical context. This short essay was written in 1933 when the nationalist agenda permeated every aspect of life in Japan. It is also noticeable in the pages of this book and in the mind of the author.

Written two years after the Manchurian Incident and the subsequent withdrawal of Japan form the League of Nations, one year after the assassination of a moderate prime minister Tsuyoshi Inukai, this essay pr
Inderjit Sanghera
Nov 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A treatise on Japanese aesthetics, by turns playful and profound, facetious and funereal, brimming with beauty, 'In Praise of Shadows' is the jewel in Tanizaki's oeuvre, a kind of paean to Japanese concepts of beauty, of darkness, shadows and reflection, of contemplation and calm, of the dazzling reflections of gold in a darkened room, whose low ceilings accentuated the shades of shadow, from sable to grey, which imbued Japanese houses with an elegance which was lacking in light-obsessed Western ...more
Jan 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lauren by: Karen
"The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty’s ends."
From IN PRAISE OF SHADOWS by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, 1933 Japanese, 1977 this English edition.

My thanks to Karen @greenteareads for reviewing this essay a few months ago - she put it on my r
Jul 15, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
After reading about the concept of Wabi-Sabi in Leonard Koren`s book Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers it was only natural to continue with this essay. Again this was very enriching, but this one was a lot more poetic and captivating. The descriptions are vivid and are beautifully written, which is not simple when writing about Japanese aesthetics (though the essence of this concept is actually the beauty that is in the simple and fleeting things). ...more
Indeed the thin, impalpable, faltering light, picked up as though little rivers were running through the room, collecting little pools here and there, lacquers a pattern on the surface of the night itself.
Unless I'm hellbent on some epic project à la Proust or Gibbons, I rarely swing around to the same author twice in one year. Technically I started Naomi in December of 2016, but the majority of mulling it over happened firmly in '17, so the fact that I was able to bounce back so quickl
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
In Praise of Shadows was recommended to me as a grumpy old man talking about Japanese aesthetics, and it's exactly that in a wonderful way.

The book was first published in 1933 and Tanizaki is fondly looking back at the 1880s or 90s - a time before electricity, when Japanese harnessed darkness and shadow as an aesthetic element. He laments that people no longer know what it's like to sit in a room lit by candles, with darkness existing all around the edges. How that candlelight made the soup in a
Jan 24, 2018 rated it it was ok
Starting to think this Tanizaki guy is a bit of a weeaboo.
Akemi G.
Jul 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Japanese aesthetics of the bygone days -- the book was originally published in 1933. (Don't expect to see this by visiting Japan now.) Quite unique. Perhaps most interesting for the American/European readers is the way he appreciates women's beauty.

Tanizaki was not just any Japanese writer. He was well versed with the Japanese classics. His modern Japanese translation of The Tale of Genji was a standard for a long time, and I think it still is one of the best. NOT coincidentally, Edward Sei
Oct 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Uber-fascinating book about a great author's aesthetic when it comes to rooms and lighting. He talks about the beauty of shadows in a room and how the light bulb sort of became the enemy of .... well everything!

Tanizaki is one of Japan's great authors, and this book may seem like a reactionary work from an older man, but I think it's a passionate cry out for things that were left mysterious and due to technology (like light bulbs) exposes what is so beautiful about darkness and foods that look g
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
Tanizaki wrote this aesthetic tract when he was around 47, in 1933. Chronological age aside, he was already a cranky old man, whining and grumbling about this, that and the other thing, and quite a sexist too. Yet I plugged on, enjoying his (translator's?) gorgeous prose and quirky, often seductive arguments about and examples of the centrality of darkness and shadows to all things aesthetic, cultural, gendered and even culinary in the Japan he felt was already nearly bygone. I think I'd like to ...more
A startling little book that taught me a lot about Japanese aesthetics. A real eye-opener. It's all so sensible and natural and yet it is so far removed from our Western preoccupation with clarity and light! I also enjoyed the resonances with Peter Zumthor's Atmospheres which I read on the same day. I've put it on the rereading shelf.


erika purrington
Apr 07, 2016 rated it it was ok
interesting aesthetic observations of light and shadow that are completely crippled by the unjustified, reactionary-style ramblings of an old man. it's racist and sexist and an utter embarrassment ...more
Jun 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fantastic essay. Though it's quite old it's something that still rings true, perhaps truer than when it was written. Also gets bonus points for being Japanese nonfiction. Because Japan is my life. ...more
Reading it for the second time around after 2.5 years, I can securely say that I found it much more interesting and indulging than the first time I read it.
May 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: japan
A beautiful little essay that I certainly enjoyed more than I thought I would. I tend to shy away from non-fiction works as a result of their normally dryness in nature, although I found this to be intriguing and of sufficient length that I can feel that I took something from it without having to rummage through hundreds of pages.

Pretty much Tanizaki outlays the differences in culture between the East and West on darkness, with a focus on shadows. From the designs of temples and how the architec
131118: view of Japanese aesthetics from 1933. yes old, yesterday’s world, from a very traditional author, this muses on an essential difference between ‘western’ and ‘oriental’ art. not as based on blood or place but environment and how this has influenced art and architecture and this is how japanese like shadows, suggestions, muted darkness, history, in everything touched by time. this is when westernization was going concern and there were many living examples of older aesthetics. i have alw ...more
Paul Ataua
Nov 25, 2019 rated it it was ok
Love Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s novels but this short essay critiquing the coming of the electric light and championing the world of shadows was only mildly interesting. I feel no desire to cook in the dark, read by candlelight, or seek out dingy toilets. Maybe I am just one of the new enlightened ones. ...more
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Jun'ichirō Tanizaki (谷崎 潤一郎) was a Japanese author, and one of the major writers of modern Japanese literature, perhaps the most popular Japanese novelist after Natsume Sōseki.

Some of his works present a rather shocking world of sexuality and destructive erotic obsessions; others, less sensational, subtly portray the dynamics of family life in the context of the rapid changes in 20th-century Japa

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Nature, in Her infinite awesomeness, can provide solace even when you’re stuck in the house. As a matter of fact, the numbers suggest that...
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“Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” 90 likes
“Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I marvel at our comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of shadow and light. For the beauty of the alcove is not the work of some clever device. An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into its forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing more. And yet, when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway.” 52 likes
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