In praise of shadows – an essay

This essay was written in 1933 (Translated to English in 1977) by Junichiro Tanizaki, a very well-known post-war Japanese author and essayist who wrote about all kinds of things from Modernity and Japanese aesthetics to obsessive love affairs.

Before reading Tanizaki, I need to ask you to note that he is a writer who is considered to have added to the ‘Orientalism‘ of his age, and that  his writings can be interpreted either at face value, or considered to be satirical expositions of his age.

This essay, called In Praise of Shadows in English and 陰翳礼讃 in Japanese, is a piece of writing in which the author pits the wabi sabi of the East against the search for clarity and luminescence in the West using light vs. shadow and gleam vs. dullness as his vehicle. It is a beaming praise of patina, obscurity and the holy Japanese toilet. You may or may not agree with what he says in the text, but reading it will bring beautiful images to your mind, and for those of you in Japan now, give you new eyes on the banality around you. So please read.

In making for ourselves a place to live, we first spread a parasol to throw a shadow on the earth,
and in the pale light of the shadow we put together a house.



Please buy the book, then read all of his other titles, too.


Below is a collection by designer Jin Kay that takes it’s inspiration from the text.



Shadows create depth, dimension and form.

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tight pleated lines make shadowed stripes in the designs of Madame Gres.

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One cloth can have a continuum of hues, adjusting it’s elegance or austerity.

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