In Praise of Shadows

This is an essay on aesthetics by one of the greatest Japanese novelists. The text ranges over architecture, jade, food, toilets, and combines an acute sense of the use of space in buildings, as well as perfect descriptions of lacquerware under candlelight and women in the darkness of the house of pleasure. The essay forms a classic description of the collision between the shadows of traditional Japanese interiors and the dazzling light of the modern age. Junichiro Tanizaki was a major writer of modern Japanese literature who wrote numerous books, including The Makioka Sisters and Naomi: A Novel. (from In Praise of Shadows (陰翳礼讃 , In’ei Raisan) is the title of a short book on aesthetics by the Japanese author and novelist Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. It was translated into English by the academic students of Japanese literature Thomas Harper and Edward Seidensticker. (from
Year of Publication
Number of Pages
80 pages (paperback)
ISSN Number
ISBN-10: 0099283573
Average: 4 (13 votes)


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In Praise of Shadows

Field of Interest/Specialty: English
Posted On: 06/27/2010

Andrea Marterella
10th Grade, World Literature
9th through 12th, Journalism
Pine Grove Area High School
After reading the Foreword I must admit, I was a little apprehensive about reading In Praise of Shadows. I was worried about the language and, honestly, the content. Then, (against English Teacher better judgment) I decided to read the Afterword. Thinking, “Maybe this will give me a better idea, before I dive into the unknown.” Sure enough it did. I was more excited to read the essay, after reading the Afterword… go figure!
I found the essay to be interesting and honestly an enjoyable read. I did keep on making notes in the margins and making “Western” connections to Tanizaki’s writing. I reveled in the fact that the author discussed toilets as “a place of unsurpassed elegance…” I never thought about a toilet in that manner before, but I guess one could consider it a “work of art.” But at the same time, with the same quote I thought of government buildings as well at the beginning of the sentence Tanizaki states, “transformed by rights should be the most unsanitary room in the house into a place of unsurpassed elegance…” I thought about that a little more. Our government buildings are absolutely beautiful, (well, most) and yet some contain absolutely filthy politicians. Yes, I realize that this is not collegiate level philosophical thought; however, a connection was seen.
I also enjoyed how Tanizaki interpreted western construction and made it true to his culture and his view of nature. It made me think of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water. Pretty interesting, “stuff.” I just completely enjoyed this piece from beginning to end!
I feel that this piece, especially with the metaphorical meaning, should be discussed in a high school classroom. Although, I’m sure excerpts of the piece (depending on maturity and intellectual level) would be appropriate for middle school age students as well.
I believe that I would use this piece while teaching metaphorical meaning vs. literal meaning, stream of consciousness and at then end of the year during the Philosophy Unit. I’m thinking a comparison/contrast paper with European philosophical ideas. I believe, first and foremost, that this piece will grab the student’s attention especially when the discussion of toilets comes up in the piece.

In Praise of Shadows

Field of Interest/Specialty:
Posted On: 06/27/2010

Katrina Krady: 9th- 12th Learning Support Special Education
Ancient History, World History, and Civics/Econ/Global Perspectives
Manheim Township High School, Lancaster, PA
The abstract above gives a nice summary of the text. I feel I do not need to elaborate on the summary of the text or the author. I struggled to get through this text. I understood the purpose of showing a contrast of past use and love of shadows and the western influence of today’s use of excessive lighting/electricity. The author’s voice was a rant moving from one area to the next in his needed to show the importance/need of the past use of shadow and the irresponsibility of electricity use of today.
Teaching in the special education field I would be able to use this information as background knowledge for me to help explain the differences of the Japanese use of light to create the shadows so admired by many of the past. I would also use this to create a visual collection of the use of shadow in the past and the increase of light in the present. I could see using the information about Japan being second to the USA in the use of electricity to take a look at the possibilities of using less electricity on our society.

In Praise of Shadows Rview

Field of Interest/Specialty: AP World History & World Religions
Posted On: 06/26/2010

Amy Swartz- Warrior Run High School
World Cultures I – 9th Grade
AP U.S. History – 11th Grade
Electives – Global Issues, World Religions
In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki discusses the incredibly contrasted views of traditional Japanese architecture, technological advancements, artifacts, cuisine, décor, drama, beauty, and fashion, as compared to that of the West and its influence on modern Japan. The author’s appreciation of the traditional Japanese ideals is based primarily on their appreciation for what many Westerners would consider the understated, unclean, or insignificant. The Japanese find beauty and spiritual significance in the shadows, muted colors, and the discreet where as westerners tend to appreciate the light, creating it if there is not enough, the shiny and showy attributes. According to the author, what produces these differences in taste is that, “Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are.” Westerners tend to alter their surrounds to make them more agreeable. This basic philosophical difference is found in all aspects of both cultures.
The abstract would be very suitable for students of Japanese history and culture in order to gain a great appreciation of the finer elements of its architecture, technological advancements, artifacts, cuisine, décor, drama, beauty, and fashion. The article could easily be supplemented with images or film clips that show the importance of “the shadows.” Portions of the article could be used for specific topics, such as drama (No & Kabuki), fashion, pottery, and architecture. It was also helpful to read about specific places in Japan where the differences between tradition and modern preferences were colliding and how various businesses and establishments were addressing these differences.
The author wonders what Japan’s current cultural make-up would constitutes if it had been without influences of the West. If provided an easy to read, and interesting overview of the differences between Western taste and preferences as compared to those of the Japanese.

In Praise of Shadows Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art
Posted On: 06/25/2010

Lisa Jean Allswede
Winchester Thurston School
MS/US Studio Arts (grades 6-12)
In Praise of Shadows Review
Since reading Tanizaki’s essay, In Praise of Shadows, I have gained a greater appreciation for the shadows in my own life. Tanizaki’s reflections have a witty way of using the essences of light to inspire the reader to look more deeply at what influences change in the surroundings of one’s environment. Quite honestly, his essay lurks around in my head since I have read it and I have become intrigued by the shadows that hang out in the corners of my house.
The thought-provoking essay has many facets that become personal to the reader but in the end I believe there are three basic themes that one gains from the piece. First, I think it is important to understand that Tanizaki grew up during the Meiji period and experienced the effects of WWII. In his life time great change surrounded him and one can understand his strong interest in harnessing the traditional culture of Japan. The spirited essay talks about how the Western culture has taken away the essence of Japan’s customs. It reflects endlessly on how the Japanese ways were inundated with such things like electrical wires, pipes and shiny appliances to excessively pounder about how it will exist in harmony with the every day life of Japan.
Another aspect of Tanizaki’s essay it illustrates the various elements of the Kansai region has to offer. It proliferates about the different cities, Japanese food, the tradition of women, architecture, and entertainment that makes one feel envious of Japanese way. Paper, pen, black lacquer bowls, teahouses in Kyoto, Noh, Bunraku Puppets Theatre all become romantic features one wants to experience.
Finally, In Praise of the Shadow puts a whole new view on shadows. As an artist, I connected to the analogy of light and how the darkness in light plays a role in our perception. Tanizaki’s philosophy is quite intriguing and illuminates many questions to consider about the shadows in one’s live. Here, I think, is where the essay becomes personal to the read. Based on the reader’s experience the interpretations of the essay can vary. Your age and where you grew up will influence how one relates to Tanizaki’s ideas. If you are from a western culture, if you are only 20 years old; one might find the essay nonsense. As one ages and experience the rapid changes of society one might understand Tanizaki’s idea of appreciating the way of the past. In this way, I believe the essay is rich with translations that can be discussed among your students in a classroom.
It is a well-written essay that any teacher can use in their classroom. I would recommend students in 8th grade or higher because of the abstract quality of the In Praise of the Shadow. A teacher could use the essay as a way to look at the influence of Western culture on Eastern culture; the idea of shadows representing change; or the idea of modern conveniences v. tradition.
The reason why I rated In Praise of Shadow a 4 out of 5 stars is because I got lost in Tanizaki’s stream of consciousness. His elaborate style was too daunting for me at times. I could easily see a student being frustrated by this style of writing. On a whole I found the piece inspiring as an artist and find myself reflecting on what Tanizaki wrote as I walk through the shadows in my life.
On a funny note, I can’t wait to experience toilets in Japan. Tanizaki romantic view of the toilets in Kyoto’s and Nara’s temples puts a new spin on the “sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden”. Seems like an opportunity I can’t pass up.

In Praise of Shadows - one teacher's view ...

Field of Interest/Specialty: Asian Studies
Posted On: 06/24/2010

Ron Sivillo
Grade 11 and 12 - Asian Studies
Grade 9 - MYP (IB) / Honors American Civics (Semester 1) and World Geography (Semester 2)
Upper St. Clair High School, (suburban) Pittsburgh PA
In Praise of Shadows, a book written in the 1920s, is a brief study of conflict; conflict between what the author, Junichiro Tanizaki, saw as the recipe for appreciating the nuanced, aesthetic beauty of life (essentially Asian) versus the practical, technologically-driven approach to experiencing life championed by the west.
Undoubtedly, this enlightening (pardon the pun) piece could be used in my Asian Studies class, which is at the junior and senior levels. In this class, we have ample time to digest and discuss the entire work. In fact, I could see the Tanziki piece as a strong introductory offering for the students. More specifically, one theme that I try to stress to my students is the need to see Asia through “Asian Eyes;” therefore, I could foresee using “In Praise of Shadows” as a way to get students to discard their lens through which they look at Asia (and most other places in the world) and instead consider Asia (maybe Japan in particular) through Tanizaki’s eyes. While this work can be rather tangential and even tedious at points, I believe the students enrolled in the Asian Studies class (who are essentially a “niche” of the rather homogeneous student body of my high school) come to the class open to the idea of putting on a lens that may be unfamiliar to them. Contrarily, the entire piece likely would not be feasible in my 9th grade Honors World Geography course; this is mainly because of the time constraints of the course (we “cover” the entire world in one semester). However, excerpts from the piece could be used to introduce students to Asia and Japan, especially ones which are accessible and a bit, well, fun. In particular, I believe the discussions of food and, um, toilets would be most relevant to students. Certainly, these are both parts of daily living for students and they likely never would have considered that going to the toilet could be a time to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of life and gain physiological delight. Further, the discussion of food and the thoughtfulness by which Japanese food is presented and viewed could be juxtaposed with the western ideal of food for taste and consumption.
So in terms of recommending this book, a definitive “yes” is in order. For me, though, the recommendation is based on what I see as a need for students to gain an appreciation of the nuances of each culture’s aesthetic feel for the world around them (or lack thereof). In fact, I would emphasize that I do not see utilization of “In Praise of Shadows” as a basis for choosing which approach is superior. Instead, I ultimately desire that my students walk away from the dialogue over Tanziki’s work with a greater awareness that this place “in the shadows” is truly a place worth exploring.

Can I really see shadows?

Field of Interest/Specialty:
Posted On: 06/24/2010

Kelly Shaw
Brandywine Heights High School
Modern World Cultures (11), AP US History (10), AP World History (11)
Even a casual observer of culture is fascinated by this foray into aesthetics. This article is about perspective, about being able to appreciate the way another person sees something even if at its core you disagree with everything.
Would I use this in my classroom? I say a resounding yes! This is a very interesting look at mistakes – the author wants things to look the way things should look or be but can’t achieve them and keep any combination of efficiency, safety or tradition. So he tries what he thinks is best and is honest about his foibles. As pretentious and eccentric as this article is, there is a certain frankness and honesty. He spends several pages talking about the toilet! What high school student wouldn’t be flabbergasted and intrigued by this discussion? I think my students would be interested in his discussions about his desires but his inability to achieve what he wants. Will my students see the author as fussy, a perfectionist a true academic?
Leaving out the copy write date on this article should also bring up some interesting discussion. When was this article written? What verbal clues are given for time period? I would bet that most students would not even closely approximate when this was written. It would also be an interesting thing for students to explore if you can create/find what the author is looking for in his ideal home now.
But given all of the words that I have used to describe this author, how do my students view this person and his lifestyle? This article is a view into perspective, not only about the author but how the author sees things. Have you thought that the way your house is heated could ruin your day because you just can’t experience the way the fog burns off in the morning the proper way? Have you scolded a house servant for removing the patina on silver? Is Western glass too clear and too bright? So no longer is this just about fussiness this is about the way Asians see things versus how Westerners see things. Do we at our core see things differently? Do westerners really not appreciate shadows? I never thought of myself as a person that didn’t appreciate finer things, but shadows takes me to a whole other realm. Maybe this author is right, those in this hemisphere have a challenging time appreciating things that we don’t even see.

Review of "In Praise of Shadows"

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art History, Art and History
Posted On: 06/23/2010

Susan Brown
The Park School of Baltimore
Art History, Grades 10-12
Studio Art, Grade 4, 5, and 9-12
The “uncanny silence of the dark place, …the magic of shadows,” tranquility, soft voices, the importance of a pause, patina as the “sheen of antiquity,” the harmony one finds in nature and natural surroundings, what shadow and darkness reveal—these are the aesthetics and traditions about which Jun’ichiro Tanizaki writes In Praise of Shadows.
I read through Tanizaki’s article with pen in hand, making notes in the margins, underlining thoughts and phrases. The article is charming, informative, and frustrating. At times I found his examples humorous, at other times rather stark and difficult. Regardless of my sentiments, Tanizaki pushes us to look carefully at what we consider beautiful, the sensibilities that are lost and why these are so—whether we’re contemplating a toilet or No theatre. With each example he juxtaposes light and dark, illumination and shadow, East and West. I found the first half of the article most compelling because I could easily see my Upper School Art History students coming away with a strong understanding of Japanese aesthetics. The latter half of the article I found rambling, but as Thomas Harper points out in his afterward “…the truest mind is just to ‘follow the brush.’” If I assign this article to my next East Asian Art History class I will have them start with the afterward. Context is important—and knowing the piece was written in 1933 is critical information (naïve as I am, I read through the article thinking it was written closer to the 1977 date of translation). Did the rising nationalism in Japan—and in countries worldwide—affect the author’s point of view? What about the political environment? Are these relevant questions or would the author have written this article regardless of the current national and political environment?
Tanizaki’s article was both intriguing and challenging and has whetted my appetite to learn more of history, politics and culture of Japan.

Susan Brown

Field of Interest/Specialty: Art History, Art and History
Posted On: 06/23/2010

Wonderful introduction to Japanese aesthetics ...

Field of Interest/Specialty: Studio Art & Art History
Posted On: 06/22/2010

Kachina Martin
Muhlenberg High School
Studio Art – grades 10 through 12
AP Studio – Crafts – 12th grade
Global Studies – Non-Western Art History – 11th grade
AP Art History – 12th grade
In Praise of Shadows, an essay by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, is without a doubt one of the best and most useful pieces that I have read as part of my NCTA experience. One of the most challenging things in teaching Non-Western art is how to help students understand and appreciate an aesthetic often very different from their own. Students must first recognize that, by virtue of their own culture and upbringing, they have an aesthetic bias, and that this bias can make it challenging to appreciate art made by cultures which embrace a different aesthetic. Art Historians frequently make excellent use of the compare/contrast model, yet the danger with comparing Non-Western and Western artworks in this manner is that it is not always useful, and often incorrectly creates a sense of European superiority. Furthermore, if the comparison is not carefully made, the Non-Western work is often cast as exotic, and somehow, too different from objects or works from the Western world that have the same purpose or meaning.
This essay, with its gentle, meandering tone offers an in-depth perspective of what the Japanese value and how these values shape their aesthetics. Teachers must be mindful in introducing this work, insofar as I am sure neither every Japanese person feels this way, nor could an essay written in the 1930s capture more modern aesthetics. However, reading this work has made me completely reevaluate my approach to teaching Japanese art and Japanese aesthetics. And I do not suggest that I agree with everything the author espouses, as I do feel that museums are a reason to rejoice, having spent many hours within their walls. However, I very much liked the author’s focus on the beauty of everyday objects – tea bowls, soup bowls, architecture and the layout of one’s home. This essay could also be a source of ideas regarding what seems to be the latest focus of discussion in the art world – craft versus art. It also moves the reader beyond the tea bowl, which sadly, is often the sole object considered when one addresses Japanese art.
This work is easy to read and beautifully flows, but it is best read at a leisurely pace, one that allows for re-reading and thinking. Readers will be disappointed if they begin the work expecting a straightforward beginning, middle, and end. I intend to have both studio and non-studio students read this work in its entirety; this will be an important resource for my lectures regarding Japanese art in Global Studies. For my studio students, given their focus on crafts, I think the author’s focus on the beauty of utilitarian objects will be of interest, and of course, the importance of light, a subject that has preoccupied artists for centuries, whether painter or sculptor, whether fine artist or craftsman, whether American, European, or Asian artist.
This essay could also be broken down into sections, but I think students at the high school level and beyond would be capable of grasping its meaning, and, hopefully enjoying the beautiful way in which has been written and translated. The author’s musings regarding things of beauty that we, from a contemporary American perspective, might find strange or troubling – for instance, the common practice of Japanese women blackening their teeth – offer teachers a wonderful opportunity to question why we, as Americans, find certain contemporary behaviors acceptable, and in fact, praise them. One might argue that the American quest for bright white teeth, or wearing towering high heels, or the love of “spanx” and other forms of girdles, or the countless other ways in which American society today encourages men and women to distort and manipulate their body could be just as troubling to others, or to us, in another hundred years.

In Praise of Shadows shows the light side of Japanese aesthetics

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 06/21/2010

Tim Jekel - West Shore Christian Academy, Shiremanstown, PA. High School History.
In Praise of Shadows is deemed an essay on aesthetics by some editors, but it goes far beyond the normal realm of aesthetics. Tanizaki’s essay morphs into a general rant against modernity. Unless the entire essay is written tongue in cheek, the content of the essay ranges from brilliant to sheer madness. Tanizaki suggests for example that Japanese suffer from mass insecurity because to their enduring shock, Europeans are whiter than they are. He suggests that American persecution of the black man was a matter of aesthetics, and that he pines for the good old days when Japanese women were gaunt like wire to hang clothes on.
I would certainly not recommend this in its entirety to most high school readers. Individual passages are helpful expressions of Japanese traditional aesthetics, but those passages lie side by side with confusing attacks on all things modern. Does he really believe that light spoils beauty? Does he really attribute Einstein's conservationism to his Jewish ancestry? Was he being serious when he praised the virtues of blackened teeth and dark green lipstick?
It may be that in Japanese this entire essay is witty. It is possible that this reader needs more context to get inside the allusions. American readers of this article should be open-minded adults who can see past the author's cagey provincialism to appreciate the genuine aesthetic that lies behind it. As Tanizaki himself claims, he is no expert or scientist, so perhaps he does not intend to be taken too seriously. As the editor suggests in relating a story from his widow - he told his builder with a laugh that he could never actually live in a house that he describes.
I took the essay to be an attempt to entertain, and on that basis it was enjoyable.