Wednesday, December 2, 2009

in praise of shadows

In Praise of Shadows, by Junichiro Tanizaki, 1933
A beautiful description of Tanizaki's book by

"He writes with the touch of the great writer he was and with the air of a mourner.
Even when he wrote this book back in 1933 his delicate world was being hidden by the electric light bulb."


In this excerpt, Tanizaki is writing of a famous restaurant in Kyoto,
where the rooms had previously been lit by candlelight.
Upon his most recent visit electric lamps had replaced the candles.
He requested his lamp to be removed and a candle placed in its stead:

"The rooms at the Waranjiya are about nine feet square, the size of a comfortable little tearoom, and the alcove pillars and ceiling glow with a faint smoky lustre, dark even in the light of the lamp. But in the still dimmer light of the candlestand, as I gazed at the trays and bowls standing in the shadows cast by that flickering point of flame, I discovered in the gloss of the lacquerware a depth and richness like that of a still, dark pond, a beauty I had not before seen. It had not been mere chance, I realized, that our ancestors, having discovered lacquer, had conceived such a fondness for objects finished in it...Lacquerware decorated in gold is not something to be seen in a brilliant light, to be taken in at a single glance, is should be left in the dark, a part here and a part there picked up by a faint light. Its florid patterns recede into the darkness, conjuring in their stead an inexpressible aura of depth and mystery, of overtones but partly suggested. The sheen of the lacquer, set out in the night, reflects the wavering candlelight, announcing the drafts that find their way from time to time into the quiet room, luring one into a state of reverie."


  1. lovely lacquer. and the candles replacing the light bulb, that is magic and wonderful! thanks for sharing. kenza

  2. thank you kenza for your comment, i very much appreciate it. i really enjoy your blog as well. you have such clear and pure way of showing things. and wonderful insight into japanese culture and art!