Naomi is the first English translation of Tanizaki’s first important novel (originally serialized in Japanese in 1924-25). It is a subtle adaptation to a Japanese setting of the basic story in Maugham’s Of Human Bondage . Joji, the narrator, finds Naomi, a girl half his age, working in a cafe. He takes her to live with him, tries to groom her (with English and music lessons), indulges her whims, encourages her ’’Western’’ ways, and eventually marries her. She becomes a torment to him, but he is so obsessed with her that he tolerates even her infidelities as long as she will stay with him. The recurrent theme in Tanizaki’s novels of the danger in sexual fascination may here represent a self-criticism of his youthful preoccupation with things Western. L. M. Lewis, Social Science Dept., Eastern Kentucky Univ., Richmond Copyright 1985 Reed Business Information, Inc
Year of Publication
Number of Pages
Vintage International
New York
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Review of Naomi

Field of Interest/Specialty: Chinese History
Posted On: 07/26/2012

Review by Dr. David Kenley
This 1924 novel by Junichiro Tanizaki is far less well known than his other work, The Makioka Sisters. Nevertheless, it is a fascinating story that sheds much light on 1920s Japan, the period of Taisho Democracy immediately before the fateful rise of Japanese militarism. As such, it provides a rare glimpse at an important and understudied period in Japanese history.
The protagonist of the story is an educated young man by the name of Joji (which sounds like the Western name of “George”). Joji is fascinated by all things Western, and eventually falls in love with Naomi, who also has a Western-sounding name and has many Western physical features. Unfortunately, Naomi is not Joji’s intellectual or social equal. Joji is a 28-year-old professional whereas Naomi is a 15-year-old hostess at a café. Nevertheless, Joji is smitten by her Eurasian appearance and quickly adopts her and takes her home to live with him. Eventually, the two are married.
Joji continually dotes on Naomi, but the more he lavishes on her the more she spurns him. In the end, Naomi becomes sexually involved with numerous other men, and yet Joji continually welcomes her back home hoping that she will somehow become the woman he desires.
With a superficial reading, students will be repulsed by Naomi’s behavior and shocked at Joji’s impotence and pathetic nature. With some guidance, however, they will easily see through Tanizaki’s use of symbolism. For instance, while Joji has studied English for many years and can read fluently, his pronunciation is poor and unintelligible. Naomi, by contrast, cannot read at all, but loves looking at the photos in Western magazines and can pronounce one or two English phrases with complete fluency. Joji and Naomi enroll in a Western dance class together, taught by an old Russian woman. Joji is clumsy and shy, but he fantasizes about the sweaty body odor of the Russian instructor. Naomi, on the other hand, uses the dance lessons as a simple tool for meeting more men and enjoying herself. Tanizaki, it is clear, is mocking those who unthinkingly idolize Western culture in its most superficial form.
Because of the infidelity and sensitive sexual themes, this text would be inappropriate for all but the most mature high school students. However, these students will enjoy discussing and analyzing the multiple themes and complex characters in Tanizaki’s Naomi.