IN PRAISE OF THE SHADOWS
More then 80 years ago Junichiro Tanizaki wrote his essay called "In Praise of the Shadows in which Japanese author and novelist presents the Japanese aesthetics in contrast to the Western aesthetics.
The literary genre of the essay developed in Japan in a different way than in the West. The Western essay presents its idea in a clear and logical manner, while the Japanese essay continues Zuihitsu tradition of "following the brush", of the thoughts and impressions in an associative manner.
The classic example of this genre is the book "The Pillow" by the writer Sei Shunagon from the 11th century, in which she describes with sharp eyes and humor the episodes of her life in the emperor's court, gestures to her and determines what she considers beautiful and ugly, what she likes and what she hates.
In the 1930s, Japan was between words, it was drawn to the west with its machinery and culture on one hand and wanted to uphold its traditions and old ways on the other.
This duality in relation to Western culture also echoes in Tanizaki s essay "In praise of the shadows."
On one hand, Tanizaki seems to be afraid of modernity and detests its superficiality and ugliness, but on the other hand he enjoys the comfort of modern life.
The first example for the dichotomy the author raises, is from the field of architecture: “While the beauty of the Western House is reflected in the light that floods it, the beauty of the Japanese house is reflected in its dark areas.”
“The western house boasts a plethora of furniture and electrical appliances, as opposed to the Japanese house with its minimalism, few items of furniture and possessions in it.”
“The Japanese ceramics, made of clay, porcelain or wood coated with lacquer or gold, are more beautiful in candlelight than electric light, and the patina of time only adds to their beauty. “
Tanizaki seems to be nostalgic about the old lavatory, which is far from the house, which was dim and allowed its users to watch the plants outside and listen to the sounds of crickets and birds. He even suggests that the poets of the past were inspired by their songs.
He never visited the West and his knowledge of it was based on reading books and observing the modernization of Japan. His claim that Western art prefers light to shadow ignores pre-modern art.
The European cathedrals were darker than the Japanese temples, and their stained glass gleamed beautifully in the light of the candles.
The basic argument of the essay is that Japanese culture prefers blurredness to bluntness. This is evident in the language that the lighter it is, the less polite it is, and the silences that are no less significant than speech. Classical Japanese poetry prefers the allusion to the clear statement. Japanese calligraphy appreciates more blurred writing of the letters.
In the Noh Theater, the plot is mostly implied. In paintings, the empty areas are as important as the painted areas. The kimono, unlike Western wear, hides the body and reveals only the head and palms. Tanizaki claims that the beauty of Japan's women was expressed in the past in their thin figure and not in the shapely body, as in the West. Japanese food is first and foremost a feast for the eyes.
The miso soup, according to the author, tastes better when served in dark bowls in a dim room than in light dishes in electric light. Toward the end of the book, Tanizaki presents us in great detail with a recipe for his favorite food, sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves again with hint of nostalgie to the simple life.
Japanese aesthetic had a major influence on interior design and architecture, the minimalism is drawn from the Japanese principals of Fusui (Japanese Feng Shui) and wabi sabi… is used as whole or fused in contemporary designs.
While creating interiors we understand the need in light and shadows which not conflicting each other anymore but complimenting each other, they are present in one space, we use modern illumination solutions to create flood and dimmable illumination, we make natural moss walls to remind us of the nature we so longing for and in bars and lounges, we create the world of shadows and insinuation…