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In Praise of Shadows Paperback – December 1, 1977

ISBN-13: 978-0918172020 ISBN-10: 0918172020 Edition: First Edition

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In Praise of Shadows + Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 56 pages
  • Publisher: Leete'S Island Books; First Edition edition (December 1, 1977)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0918172020
  • ISBN-13: 978-0918172020
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (49 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Tanizaki captures in an amusing, flowing commentary on beauty, architecture, drama, food, feminine beauty, and many other aspects of Japanese life the uneasy mixing of two clashing esthetic traditions.”  —Edwin O. Reischauer, Harvard University

About the Author

Junichiro Tanizaki was a major writer of modern Japanese literature who wrote numerous books, including The Makioka Sisters and Naomi: A Novel.

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Customer Reviews

I feel like one of the original translators trying to describe "In Praise of Shadows."
Mary Wendell
Later I found that exactly the same translation is contained in Phillip Lopate's collection "The Art of the Personal Essay."
Boris Bangemann
I read this in conjunction with a book about Wabi-sabi and I would recommend doing the same.
P. LaDeau

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

103 of 110 people found the following review helpful By Boris Bangemann on April 4, 2005
Format: Paperback
The Japanese have an aesthetic concept called "Wabi Sabi." This term consists of two words. "Wabi" literally means "poverty," but in the aesthetic context it stands for simplicity; "Sabi" is literally "solitude, loneliness," and for aesthetic purposes it means something like natural impermanence. Wabi Sabi encourages, as one observer put it, a profound feeling of inner melancholy, and an appreciation of quietly clear and calm, well-seasoned and refined simplicity.

Andrew Juniper's "Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence" summarizes the concept by saying that "the term wabi-sabi suggests such qualities as impermanence, humility, asymmetry, and imperfection. These underlying principles are diametrically opposed to those of their Western counterparts, whose values are rooted in the Hellenic worldview that values permanence, grandeur, symmetry, and perfection. ... Wabi-sabi is an intuitive appreciation of a transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. It is an understated beauty that exists in the modest, rustic, imperfect, or even decayed, an aesthetic sensibility that finds a melancholic beauty in the impermanence of all things." (pages 2 and 51)

In order to appreciate Junichiro Tanizaki's 50-page pamphlet "In Praise of Shadows" it helps to keep the concept of Wabi Sabi in mind. While many people would object to Tanizaki's anti-modernist view of art (and call it "reactionary" or "nationalist"), it is in fact a contemporary take on an ancient aesthetic concept that favors obliqueness (shadows) over brightness, weathered naturalness over functional novelty, the crude over the polished, and - ultimately - irrationality over rationality.
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Mary Wendell on January 9, 2014
Format: Paperback
I feel like one of the original translators trying to describe "In Praise of Shadows." Junichiro Tanizaki wrote this paean for a fading way of life in 1933, and it was later translated to English in 1977 - quite well I must say. I can't imagine it was easy though, because the Western and Eastern cultures are so different. This book sensitized me to how our different cultures use light and the role shadows play in the beauty of architecture and everyday objects.

Although it has been eighty years since this essay was first written, the words of this "ecological prophet" are still insightful and relevant to today's issues of modernity and culture. Japan is now one of the most modern countries in the world, particularly of the Far East, and they still have not abandoned its heritage. In fact, there is a fantastic book called Sacred Calligraphy of the East, that I just finished which presents the history and contemporary synthesis of this honored tradition.

I would highly recommend In Praise of Shadows for the person who is nostalgic and traditional. Today when technology advances put smartphones out of style in mere months, many of my friends are dreaming of the days of typewriters. I think they would find this book fascinating because it recalls the beauty of simpler times without being a jeremiad.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful By C. E. Stevens VINE VOICE on December 10, 2002
Format: Paperback
The ideas in Tanizaki's essay on the Japanese appreciation for shadows and nature-based arts and architecture should come as little surprise for those familiar with the Japanese culture and tradition. Tanizaki's suggestion that these inclinations came from practical origins made sense (a lot better than the still-common theory that the Japanese idea of aesthetics is a result of different, Japanese genes). It also seemed to me that the Japanese were more inclined to resign themselves to fate and find beauty in what was at hand (like the shadows) than to fight nature and create light at the expense of beauty.
What interested me most was the fact that Tanizaki has a "us versus them" mentality, not so much that Japan or the West is better than the other, just different. However, it seems that if a young Japanese person were to read this essay today, it would seem just as "foreign" as it does to an American.
Nevertheless, it was interesting to read Tanizaki's essay, which discusses everything from the theatre to the bathroom, gold and lacquer, women and race. One cannot help but read Tanizaki's essay without feeling his loss at the erosion of traditional society and the innate beauty within it. At the same time, it makes you look around and notice the lack of beauty in our everyday lives (in terms of art and architecture). America, too, was once a land of shadows and a people who we probably able to appreciate their beauty. Tanizaki probably never considered the fact that his culture and ours are really not so fundamentally different.
If you read this essay, don't get caught up in Tanizaki's occasional bad-mouthing of Western culture (remember that he probably would have never dreamed that this short essay would be translated and read in the West!) Instead, treat this as a rare look into a common Japanese mindset and an opportunity to see for yourself whether Tanizaki's praise of shadows is a worthy one or not.
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37 of 43 people found the following review helpful By "rainbowcrow" on October 8, 2000
Format: Paperback
"And I realized then that only in dim half-light is the true beauty of Japanese lacquerware revealed....But in the 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 this lacquerware a depth and richness like that of a still, dark pond, a beauty that 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."
In 1993, Japanese novelist Jun'ichiro Tanizaki laid out his views on the Japanese aesthetic sense, in a short essay entitled "In Praise of Shadows". Though by no means an encompassing exploration of the subject, and at times decidedly idiosyncratic, Tanizaki's views shed a new light - if I may use that ironic metaphor - on the art and in particular the architecture of Japan, by revealing the way in which the concept of beauty evolved in concert with the darkness or semi-darkness in which life was lived. In this respect, the essay is brilliant, and capable of radically changing one's perspective on light and shadow, form and color.
Yet certain ideas of Tanizaki's can be disturbing. For example, on race and the paleness of skin, he writes "Thus it is that when one of us goes among a group of Westerners it is like a grimy stain on a sheet of white paper. The sight offends even our own eyes and leaves none to pleasent a feeling. We can appreciate, then, the psychology that in the past caused the white races to reject the colored races. A sensitive white person could not but be upset by the shadow that even one or two colored persons cast over a social gathering.
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